The Autumn season at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama continues on a rather brave path with another challenging text. Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, adapted here for the stage in a more concise and experimental form, is still surprisingly relevant to the collective concerns of today’s society, and in a time of new moralisms it is a text that will certainly resonate very deeply with its audience. It also poses a big challenge to its cast and creatives in bringing to the stage, sometimes in a very explicit fashion, a number of themes and topics that are still often regarded as better left half-hidden – the intertwining of sexuality and puberty, of knowledge and consent, but also the excessive pressure to perform that society can put on young people and the consequences, sometimes terrible, that follow. There is an inevitable choice to be made by everyone approaching this text, of how much should be shown and how explicitly. The question becomes even more pressing when, as in this case, there is an intervention on the text, pruning some storylines and even cutting away some characters. RWCMD’s production decided to focus on the two main storylines, partly sacrificing all others, but maintained all the weight of the hardest moments in the play, presenting them with harsh simplicity. The use of symbolism and coached movement worked very well in this sense, conveying all the punch of those moments without falling into excessive descriptiveness.
The Caird Studio at the RWCMD is an unusual space, set here with a round stage calling for a more immersive experience for the audience, forcing it to be drawn into a tale that one would instinctively try to stay at a safe distance from. The immersiveness helps with the production’s clear intent to get the audience to experience the turmoil of its protagonists, and to compel the audience to form its own judgement. Spring Awakening is after all, in a sense, a moral tale about how morals are blurry and complicated. By making the audience partake closely of the characters’ experience, and in a sense inhabit the characters’ same space, the production turns the audience into both witness and jury of the event, leaving the last word to it, after the play is ended. The use of the experimental space is therefore for the most part successful, although there are some issues with visibility in some parts of the play, where things end up being shielded from view that should have been more easily accessible to the entire audience. In the same directions goes the choice of a mostly live soundtrack, performed by the cast; this made for some intense, poignant moment and was certainly one of the strength of the production.
The performances were for the most part smooth and some of them highlighted remarkable talent, particularly that of Alex Leak as Melchior, a very difficult part tackled here with skittish intensity, making the character believable both in his teenaged cockiness and in the moments where his deep insecurities surface in the face of loss and solitude. Also worthy of praise were the performances of Lilian Scheurlen as Wendla, shouldering some moments of high pathos without overdoing them, and Amesh Edireweera as Moritz, lending additional gravitas to his character through a gentle, understated delivery. The whole cast displayed a good stage presence and a good chemistry with each other, making their characters believable and not at all distant from modern sensitivities.
This reimagining of Spring Awakening puts the finger squarely onto the way in which some of the complex, controversial issues raised by the play are still a point of concern, but perhaps not enough of a topic of discussion, in today’s world. We live in a time where the risk of over-infantilising teenagers and demonising sex is very much present, where performance anxiety is as much as of a deadly force as it is presented to be in Wedekind’s text, where tensions between men and women are heightened rather than resolved. This production works through the original play by defusing its certainties and removing its answers, and asking instead many relevant questions. It is perhaps not a perfect work, but it is a poignant one, that has something to say and something to ask of its audience, and an intense, honest way of doing it.
Until October 27