FRANK Wedekind’s startling, stark look at teenage angst, Spring Awakening, has been shocking audiences ever since it was first produced in 1906, and judging by the reaction to the first night of Ian White’s production at Yeovil Swan, it has lost none of its power to disquiet.
The Swan Youth Theatre company decided against performing the ultra modern Headlong/Anya Reiss adaptation, but opted for the Julian and Margarete Forsyth translation, set in the original late 19th century Germany. The writer’s contention was that repressive nature of society was responsible for the horrors suffered by the students.
They were beaten by their parents for unnamed sins, raped, criticised, misled and mistreated, and all in the name of goodness.
The play opens as Wendla “celebrates” her 14th birthday by begging her mother not to force her to wear ground-length dresses.
She’s at school with Melchior, whose claim to fame is his under-used brain and his romantic atheism. His best friend is the introspective Moritz, who finds his raging hormones shameful and embarrassing … and totally distracting from the schoolwork he should be doing.
The story is told in brief scenes, from the balmy days of spring to the bleak recognition of reality.
This exceptional young cast coped not only with the difficulties of the text, but a small audience with some older members who complained audibly about the subject matter, and younger ones who giggled with every sexual reference.
There were outstanding performances by Amy Kemp as an extraordinarily natural Wendla, Tom Ball’s charismatic Melchior and Ed Holt’s anguished Moritz. Liam Beard and Kira Brown touchingly portrayed two young men realising their love for each other (although it was a bit confusing to have them played by a boy and a girl) and Tasia Ling-Marriott brought the full horror of the abused daughter to the stage.
It is important that youth theatres tackle difficult subject matter, and it doesn’t get more difficult than Wedekind’s timeless look at how little we learn.
Spring Awakening is on until Saturday 28th March.