Review: Spring Awakening
Frank Wedekind’s 1981 drama gets a subtle upgrade in this enthusiastic DYT production
Date Reviewed: October 10th, 2014
If ever a play was a natural fit for Dublin Youth Theatre, Frank Wedekind’s enduringly febrile 1891 drama on adolescent sexuality is surely it. Not only does the story demand a teenage cast, but its themes – sexual repression, abortion, suicide, rape, homosexuality and general distrust of the adult world – continue to have a resonance for the young, the idealistic and the rebellious. But the play has its perils, too: it is not a work that naturally invites subtle staging or nuanced performance.
In telling the tale of the relationships between precocious Melchior (Peter Newington), sensitive Moritz (Paul Harris) and naively curious Wendla (Martha Breen), Gyorgy Vidovszky’s production frequently treads a fine line between heightened gesture and scenery-chewing excess. The set, with its array of sample jars containing sundry preserved flora, conveys a suitably fetid atmosphere, bar the odd misjudged flourish such as the superfluous video camera, presumably a nod to social-media obsessions. The action moves briskly, with enough moments of sardonic humour from the leads to keep excessive youthful earnestness in check. The young actors throw themselves into their many roles with gusto, with able support from older alumni of the troupe, such as Alan Howley and Clelia Murphy as Melchior’s indulgent parents
Proceedings are punctuated by vibrant vignettes, ranging from rousing German songs to a particularly icky rite involving spittle, mimicking Melchior’s “manly surprises”. These stylised segments ensure the production never makes the mistake of trying to shoehorn the play into a modern Irish setting.
Although the experience of teen sexuality, in all its uncertainty, anxiety and intensity, is vividly captured, the anachronistic attitudes of fin de siècle Germany remain in the narrative. The contemporary relevance of the subject matter is left implicit, making for a much more compelling, and paradoxically subtle work.