Spring Awakening ***

17Jan09

Queen Margaret University Student Union and Cobweb Theatre Company, Adam House, Edinburgh
Thursday 15th January – Saturday 17th January 2009

Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening’s distinct performance history is indicative of the many difficulties his play creates for a prospective production team. Consequently, Wedekind’s work is rarely undertaken, in its simplistic dramatic form, by professional companies. Therefore, in this reviewer’s opinion, Cobweb Theatre Company’s courageousness should be admired, for their initial intent and their belief in the continuing relevance of the play. Spring Awakening still has the ability to challenge audiences and continues to portray contemporary taboos, including rape, abortion, sexual education, masturbation and suicide. However, the content is not the only difficulty, as most of the action is told in a stylistic manner, which is conventionally uncommon for mainstream audiences.

Director Andrew Henry’s production creates some appealing moments and has a few interesting acting choices which add new dimensions to the play. Callum Madge presents an anguished Melchior and provides recurring stability among other weaker performances. Likewise, Claire Turner’s Wendla has an enticing likability, which adds a necessary human level to the production. However, the strength of these individual moments was sometimes lost in the overall picture because a general artistic unsteadiness, particularly in the long first act. The production seems unsure of its setting, presenting the last decade of the twentieth century on a tombstone and through costumes, but without any apparent reason for this particular period choice. Similarly, cast members playing numerous roles were, occasionally, presented clumsily, which slowed down the pace and energy of the production.

Forgivable flaws aside, it is reasonable to assume that this production was done with intense respect and loyalty to Wedekind’s work. Imperfections in student productions can easily be found, but the rawness in this production is rarely allowed in professional production and works interestingly for this particular play. The second act was dramatically and comically stronger, as the young actors became more confident and developed into their roles. Note should also be given to the cast for not shying away from the uncomfortable scenes and the ending expressionist scene. Overall, although far from perfect, Cobweb Theatre Company creates significant debate and, hopefully, will continue to develop in the coming years.

TF

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