Spring Awakening

Arts University Bournemouth [AUB]    AUB Studio Theatre, Wallisdown Campus, Bournemouth

John Sivewright  3 November  2023

It’s not often one is transported back to the late 19th century, but that was where this reviewer found himself on a Friday evening as AUB Productions staged an intense and thought-provoking offering of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, translated into English by Craig Norman.

Highly controversial from when it was first penned (Spring Awakening wasn’t even first staged until around 15 years after its completion), the play tells of the misfortunes of a band of teenagers in Germany as they start to wonder about the birds and the bees and physical and emotional changes that adolescence brings. Not helped by their repressive, religiously inclined parents, the youngsters engage in some rather profound and amusing philosophical and moral debate on the subjects, before finding out that actions speak a lot louder than words and can have devastating, life-altering consequences. But are some of the reactions to their misdemeanours overblown? Would their parents have made their fates a lot easier by entertaining their requests for some frank and open discussions on such sensitive subjects? The themes brought up by this classic piece prove that a play can be a relic yet remain highly relevant.

The production was performed and staged almost entirely by AUB students from the University’s Acting, Performance Design and Film Costume, Costume Hair, and Make-Up for Media and Performance courses. The cast and crew should all be extremely proud of their efforts, as their teamwork, creativity and energy all combined to produce a highly polished end product. The 13-strong cast, which contained no weak links, all produced well-rounded characterisations, with many of the players taking on multiple roles.

Adam Martin as the atheist, free-spirited Melchior is a real talent to watch; he has a natural charm and charisma on the stage and he, perhaps more than any other cast member, really got the best out of all the philosophical musings in the text. He also gave a delightful cameo as the elderly Probst. Scarlett Morris impressed as the inquisitive and frustrated Wendla and Finlay Whitfield rose to the physical and emotional challenges that came with the role of the malaise-stricken Moritz, although the latter must watch his projection at times, as some of his lines were less audible in the early going. Among the supporting cast, Lucy Jayne (Frau Bergman/Professor Hungergurt), Christina Paz (Martha/Fliegentod/Ina), Liam Nisseborn (Ernst Robel/Zungenschlag/Reinhold) and Renia Sevastaki (Frau Gabor/Pastor Kahlbauch) all stood out. Fraser Humphrey and Renia’s powerful scene as Melchior’s conflicted and broken-hearted parents was a high point of the evening.

Director Craig Norman is to be congratulated on such an engaging theatrical offering. He made good use of the almost bare stage, and having the cast seated off-stage either side while not involved in scenes was an interesting choice that worked well. There were a few occasions where cast spoke upstage which could probably have been avoided, but this didn’t detract from the piece too much. Costumes, scenery and props all fitted the period, while lighting was used effectively to depict a variety of locations. Music choices for scene changes were a bit of a mishmash and would have benefitted from more consistency of tone, although it’s not often one hears Nirvana’s ‘Come as You Are’ at a play written in the 19th century!

Spring Awakening has two more showings, this afternoon at 2.30pm and at 7.30pm this evening. A warning: it is a very long piece, around three and a half hours (including a 15-minute interval). One can’t really blame the author, as 21st century audience sensibilities probably weren’t on his mind (and in his day there were no last buses that the punters might miss!), but it’d be worth bringing a bottle of water and making sure you use the facilities beforehand or during the break. There are also some scenes that some viewers may consider highly uncomfortable, including simulated self-gratification and forced intercourse (the latter is handled very sensitively). These factors, however, don’t take away from what is a powerful and historically significant piece of theatre that is worth going out of your way to see.