by Frank Wedekind new version by Anya Reiss.
Tour to 31 May 2014.
Runs 1hr 40min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 April.
Inventive yet true to the feelings it portrays.
Sex was serious stuff for playwright Frank Wedekind. His two best-known dramas show the parabolic rise and fall of a beautiful young woman through affluent late 19th-century European society. Human behaviour, at best, is bestial, animated by animal appetites.
Spring Awakening’s first full run was given by the National Theatre company at London’s Old Vic in 1974 – 83 years after it was completed. The few earlier productions had been heftily censored.
If only Headlong Theatre, touring this production in association with Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse and Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre, had gone headlong and called the production ‘Puberty’, for that’s what it’s about. Yet don’t worry if you weren’t theatrically active in 1974. This is the version to see.
Whether working from Wedekind’s German or a translation, Anya Reiss isn’t far from her own teens and understands the pains of youth and flirtation which bring embarrassment, confusion and pulsing energy suddenly into young lives, cutting-off the links to parents, creating new dynamics among friends.
With director Ben Kidd fully in sympathy, she translates a play written in the world of Sigmund Freud and social closedown on sex, to one of short skirts, laptop porn, and 24-hour online contact.
Some things remain the same across a century; a toilet’s wheeled centre-stage at the start, where a youth sits masturbating over an erotic art catalogue as the audio-guide moves from detailed art appreciation to adolescent obscenity, indicating the unbroken line between erotic fantasy and seedily secretive auto-eroticism.
The only element the production underplays is the school staff meeting. Rows of empty chairs are arranged, but it’s a weak gesture on a stage Colin Richmond’s design lays-out for individual spaces and closet meetings of friends or temporary partners.
The satire is restricted in scope. Wedekind knew adult disapproval maintained an ignorance that could be fatal. Yet, when suicide strikes, the teachers spend their time arguing whether a staffroom window should be open or shut.
In all other ways, this is a frank, moving, sometimes funny, often searing production performed by a cast whose concentration and sense of interior life contribute hugely to the impact.
Wendla Bergman: Aiofe Duffin.
Martha/Mrs Gabor: Claudia Grant.
Moritz Stiefel: Bradley Hall.
Melchior Gabor: Oliver Johnstone.
Hans/Mr Sonnestisch: Ekow Quartey.
Thea/Mrs Bergman: Ruby Thomas.
Ernst/Mr Gabor: Adam Welsh.
Ilse/Miss Twister: Daisy Whalley.
Audio Guide: Roger Allam.
Director: Ben Kidd.
Designer: Colin Richmond.
Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth.
Sound: George Dennis.
Video: Ian William Galloway.
Assistant director: Kimberley Sykes.
Associate video: Leo Flint.
29 Apr-3 May 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Cambridge Arts Theatre 01223 503333 www.cambridgeartstheatre.com
7-10 May 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm Richmond Theatre 0844 871 7651 www.atgtickets.com/richmond
13-17 May Tue; Thu-Sat 7.30pm Wed 5.30pm Mat Thu 1.30pm Sat 2pm Liverpool Playhouse 0151 709 4776 www.everymanplayhouse.com
20-24 May Tue, Thu-Sat 7.30pm Wed 6pm; Mat Sat 2pm Northern Stage Newcastle-upon-Tyne 0191 230 5151 www.northernstage.co.uk
28-31 May 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Derby Theatre 01332 593939 www.derbytheatre.co.uk