by Raghav Arora and Samanwita Sen
Spring Awakening is a bold take on teenage sexuality. It follows the experiences of various adolescents,’ sexuality coming to full bloom, with a major focus on Wendla Bergmann as she forays into the unfamiliar territory of lustful passion in her relationship with Melchior Gabor. The play strikes a fine balance between spunky comedy and the haunting treatment of prescriptive sexuality in backwards times. A slightly abstract story about a very real topic, the play conveys its still-relevant message through the cast’s brilliant musical numbers, props and standout moments of acting.
The actors and story explore the range of grief, passion and confusion that accompany an increasing awareness of sexual desire; such turbulent emotions were handled particularly well by the cast. A sharp critique of the responsibility of institution, education, and family, to accept and help navigate the confusing maze of adolescent sexuality underpins the entire narrative, leading to emotional climaxes that draw our empathy as an audience. Particular scenes left lasting impressions: a confused Moritz Stiefel plagued by dreams of “women in blue stockings” he doesn’t understand but feels guilty for, a distraught Wendla asking her mother how babies are made only to receive scalding remarks, and of course, an especially stern and prickly schoolteacher, whose stunning performance solidified how chained and locked sexuality can be under the cold hand of tradition and institution.
The Spring Awakening team was especially innovative when it came to props – one set functioned as a classroom, a garden, a living room, a library, and a balcony. This diversity was not at the expense of quality and immersion, as scene transitions were smooth and creative. When Wendla and Melchior were in the garden, string lights set the scene for a romantic starry backdrop to a warm spring evening, only furthered by sound effects like birdsong. This still transitions well to musical scores like “totally fucked” – an amusing piece that captures teenage angst and rebellion all too well.
While the play was ambitious, stitching together multiple narratives of teenage sexual experiences, imaginative directing and mature acting did justice to the serious topics covered. Spring Awakening is a must watch for those who like sharp dialogue, lively comedy and heavy themes.
Spring Awakening runs till Saturday 9 November at the Oxford Playhouse