Image: West Yorkshire Playhouse
The West Yorkshire Playhouse’s adaptation of Spring Awakening, first performed in 1906, is not for the fainthearted. The line “when I first came, I became an atheist” does not even begin to cover the coarse crudity of the production in its exploration of teenage angst. Following a group of adolescents reaching puberty, the play confronts morality and sexuality tied down with repression and ignorance.
Having endured the furore surrounding the previous Broadway adaptation I was excited to finally see this infamous play. The WYP’s production offers a little ingenuity and differed slightly to the original. Directed by Anya Reiss, an award winner for Most Promising Playwright, the play transposes the 1906 plot onto a modern, contemporary setting and the musical songs are omitted.
Most impressive to me was the effective use of technology and film, creating dramatically provocative results in a nod to the 21st century. A boy films his most tormented moments and they are projected onto the stage wall. He turns and begins to watch himself, achieving an ominous sense of both physical and mental detachment. At moments, the play also incorporates meta-theatre: the actors appear to deviate from the script, acknowledging that this is a performance on stage. We are encouraged therefore to embrace the troubling events more than we are invited to sympathise with the characters.
Some stilted dialogue is a little jarring and it is unclear whether this is a fault of the script or of the performance. Bursts of aggressive music between scene changes are chaotically unsettling and, perhaps, arguably cliché. Nevertheless they may be deliberate devices, echoing the uncomfortable nature of that limbo between childhood and adulthood.
Regardless of its faults, Spring Awakening is powerfully evocative theatre. It’s entertaining and thought-provoking drama which I wholly recommend seeing.