Arts & Entertainment

THEATRE: SPRING AWAKENING

PREVIEW BY AMELIA GROOM

In a small, provincial town at the turn of the 19th Century, a group of school children struggle with their unpredicted sexual awakening. A gifted young man obsesses over the stirrings in his underpants while a young woman attempts to quell her undefinable, yet uncontrollable desires’

Melbourne ensemble The Hayloft Project are bringing their innovative reworking of Frank Wedekind’s controversial play of sexual discovery, Spring Awakening, to Belvoir’s Downstairs Theatre this week.

Banned for almost a century after it was written, the play is an acerbic attack on the repression of sexuality, boldly investigating the ongoing battle between animal instinct and social conditioning. It caused riots when it was first performed and remains confronting today.

The director, Simon Stone, translated it from German himself, and says he rewrote a lot of it along the way. ‘It’s about a third of the length of the original and some anachronisms are made more relevant to a modern audience,’ he says, ‘I didn’t want to do a period piece, I think it exists beautifully at the intersection of our contemporary culture and the historical contextualising.’

This balance between modern setting and historical references allows for some interesting comparisons to be made between contemporary culture and the play’s original context. ‘It’s is about the repression of sexual expression,’ says Stone, ‘today that repression is more subtle – and therefore possibly more dangerous.

‘We have all the same insecurities and vulnerabilities and sensitivities that we had a hundred and ten years ago, that we’ve had for thousands of years, but of course social circumstances change through the ages.’

What is particularly relevant with Spring Awakening at the moment is the debate about teenage sexuality and the depiction/censorship of it, as well as the question of artistic licence in dealing with taboo issues. Much like the Bill Henson scenario – after Spring Awakening appeared Frank Wedekind was labelled a pervert and arrested for obscenity.

The muting of the voice of teenage sexuality is what interests Stone. ‘How far do you go to repress teenage sexuality for the safety of the teenager’ How do we let them express the tumultuous changes they’re going through in a way that doesn’t make them feel confused or weird’

‘In Spring Awakening the inherent shame that teenagers feel is made more extreme by the complete absence of a discourse about sexuality. Puberty is problematic at the best of times and you only make it more scary if you put a stigma on free and honest expression of the feelings that go through the young people’s bodies. If you make them feel ashamed as well as confused, you’re only compounding an already traumatic time.

‘It’s a question of the struggle between the socialisation of our impulses in terms of morality and learning the right thing, and also giving enough room to the parts of us that are primal, instinctive and can’t be learnt,’ Stone says. ‘That balance is something we’ll always struggle with. Sometimes we’ll go too far towards repression, then too far towards liberty – this play is a discussion of that balance.’

Spring Awakening
25 June ‘ 13 July
Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre
25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Tickets: $29/$23 (Tues pay-what-you-can min $10)
9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au