Content and trigger warning: Please note that this production contains, and therefore this review refers to, abuse, rape, abortion, incest, suicide, violence, partial nudity, mature themes, and coarse language.
This production is not recommended for anyone under fifteen years.
Moreton Bay Theatre Company presents Spring Awakening, directed by Pat James with musical direction by Melissa Beilby and technical direction by Bruce Noy. The rock musical by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater is based on the 1891 play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, and follows a group of teenagers growing up in late 19th century Germany. The musical criticises the impact of religious conservatism and lack of sexual education as these young people seek to explore their bodies and desires and express their frustration at living in an oppressively conservative society.
The play centres in particular on Melchior, a young man with subversive ideas that the institution is trying to supress; Moritz, a friend of Melchior who is struggling to meet academic and social expectations; and Wendla, a naïve young woman who is struggling to understand the changes in her body and in her relationships with others.
As Moritz spirals deeper into hopelessness, Melchior and Wendla find their way into each other’s arms, and their friends struggle with problems and relationships of their own. The play asks questions about morality, sexuality, and the messy process of growing through puberty with little guidance and incomplete information. In keeping with the 19th century morality of the piece, Wendla is punished for her perceived promiscuity with death, dying from a botched forced abortion, with no agency granted to her character even at the end. Moritz, conversely, dies by his own hand after deciding that the pressure of conforming to society’s expectations is too much to bear. Melchior is sent away to a reformatory after he is blamed for Moritz’s suicide and expelled, and his parents discover a letter he has written to Wendla about their sexual activity. The play ends with his return to the community, embracing his old friends and even the authority figures while the apparitions of Moritz and Wendla stand behind him.
The 2006 musical differs from the original play, first performed in 1906, primarily in its recasting of Melchior as Wendla’s lover rather than her rapist, and unfortunately does little to compensate for the shift in social norms and ideas of morality since the work was initially written. An underdeveloped queer storyline feels tokenistic for its lack of depth, and no closure is granted to the abused women of this work; Martha, whose father beats and rapes her, or Ilse, who was outcast from the community for her ‘moral corruption’ and appears, spectre-like, throughout the work. Wendla is granted closure only through death and remains almost entirely naïve about how she has come to be pregnant in the first place. However, these are flaws inherent in the text itself, not within the production.
Moreton Bay Theatre Company’s production of Spring Awakening is carried by the committed performances of its young cast. Daniel Radlein gave an engaging and impassioned performance as Melchior, and had fantastic onstage chemistry with Matthew Bapty, who played the role of Moritz with wide-eyed intensity and agitation, cooling to passive, emotionless observation after Moritz’s death. Audrey Rose brought a lovely voice and an appropriately awkward, naïve characterisation to the role of Wendla.
Tallis Tutunoa (Ilse) and Jessica Beilby (Martha) brought emotive performance and exceptional vocals to their roles, and their duet The Dark I Know Well was a highlight of the show. Macca Kelly (Hanschen), Lyndon Steele (Ernst), Lachlan Farnfield (Otto), Amanda Burgess (Thea), Caelen Culpeper (Georg), and Ruby Gleeson (Anna) all brought energy and passion to the stage and to the interpretation of their characters.
Sandra Harman showed her versatility in a variety of roles as Female Authority, from concerned and distraught mothers to a cold, calculating administrator, and Pat James was terrifying as Male Authority, particularly in his performance as Moritz’s father.
Choreography by Maureen Bowra, Taylah McLennan, and Pat James was especially visually impactful when performed in the synchronised group scenes, and the coordination of colour palette in costuming and prop design, by Pat James and Thomas Bapty, was impeccable. Symbolism, especially in terms of colour, was used heavily throughout the performance, and the inclusion of mobile phones and taser punishments aimed to add a modern element but occasionally felt out of place against the otherwise faithfully 19th century setting.
Moreton Bay Theatre Company have created a well-rehearsed production of Spring Awakening, delivered with vigour by a talented cast of young people addressing a series of dark and disturbing themes with emotional commitment and maturity.
For ticketing and further information, visit the Moreton Bay Theatre Company website. Spring Awakening is playing at NeverLand Theatre, North Lakes, until November 24.