Spring Awakening at The Dublin Theatre Festival

Being fourteen is not a fun time under the best of circumstances. Being fourteen in late nineteenth century Germany is just a whole different level of bullshit. No one will tell you a damn thing about what’s happening to your body, discipline is brutal and there’s a goodish chance you’ll be named “Georg”. Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening has remained in vogue for well over a century and likely will as long as the world is full of confused, angry teens and their parents trying to prove Philip Larkin right at every possible opportunity, even if not all of the issues presented in the play are as relevant now as they were when he wrote it (children not being able to learn anything about sex? We’re good, thanks.)

Dublin Youth Theatre chooses to stage their production in a laboratory or science classroom stocked with animal and plant specimens (and a video camera projecting a live feed on the wall because this is DYT and there are rules, dammit). These kids are of course, experimenting, with alcohol, with sex, with each other and ultimately with life and death. Sarah Jane Sheil’s wonderful set also helps bring out the ways in which Wedekind’s script may be, after almost 125 years, showing its age. For while the play does an excellent job of showing how a prudish inability to speak frankly about sex leads to disastrous consequences, there is little sense that the play has any concept of sex as something positive or beautiful. Like the dead animals onstage, sex is something to be morbidly fascinated and repulsed by, and if anything Wedekind seems to be criticising the adult characters for not doing enough to warn these children of the horrors of carnality, which is not exactly an enlightened or progressive view on the topic. One character, who has managed to piece together the truth about the birds and bees says that it “turned me atheist” (strange, as sex tends to briefly make most people strongly, or at least vocally, religious).

The young cast all perform exceptionally, however, with special notice needed for Martha Breen’s prickly, fragile and beautiful performance as Wendla. In fact, I can think of no stronger praise than to say that this cast made me thoroughly enjoy a play I thoroughly dislike.

The Unshaved Mouse

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