Sex, suicide, masturbation, rape and depression. These are a few of the themes that German playwright Frank Wedekind explored in his 1891 play Spring Awakening. While controversial at its time, it was an opportunity for teenagers to see themselves as people who have big ideas, difficult choices to make, and an awareness of sex and sexuality. Fast forward 126 years and Daniel Lammin's adaptation, Awakening - in collaboration with students from Monash Uni Student Theatre - is just as powerful, important and necessary as the original in giving people a true insight as to what teenagers must contend with in today's society.
Lammin has put together an extremely talented cast who excel in the challenging roles they share. Nicola Dupree, Samantha Hafey-Bagg, Eamonn Johnson, James Malcher, Sam Porter and Imogen Walsh all have great chemistry on stage and a clear understanding and appreciation of who their characters are, leading to some incredibly intuitive performances. Of particular note are Walsh, Dupree and Malcher, who take on each role with outstanding commitment and emotional intensity.
The masterful direction by Lammin creates an atmosphere of claustrophobia, intimacy and anxiety that barely releases its grip on the audience. As each scene is played out, the tension increases and you are left anxiously wondering when everything is going to implode. The cast are on stage for the entire show and when not participating in a scene, Lammin has them sitting motionless on chairs in the background where they either watch the unfolding scene or stare off into space, as if trying to comprehend what is happening to them. This reinforces the idea that they are all connected and feel each other's struggles, and that this is not just one person's story but all of their stories.
There is much anger and resentment in Awakening, most of which is directed at society and to parents who have failed in their responsibilities to create a safe environment for their children and prepare them for adulthood. The costume design by Charmian Sim further conveys the idea that teenagers have been ignored for centuries and that history will continue to repeat itself unless we stop asking the same questions and start providing answers. Music is also effectively used to emphasise the thoughts and feelings being expressed, with one scene including an emotional rendition of Megan Washington's heartfelt ballad "Underground".
It is truly frightening how so little has changed since the original play was written with regards to how teenagers who are on the cusp of adulthood are treated. Works such as Lammin's Awakening ensure that they are given a voice and the power to demand answers. It also doesn’t hurt that works such as Lammin’s is also some of the finest theatre happening at the moment.
Venue: fortyfive downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season: Until 21 May | Tue- Sat 7.30pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $35 Full | $25 Conc
Bookings: fortyfive downstairs