Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spring Awakening; Novello Theatre, West End Play

I managed to catch Spring Awakening on its first night at the Novello. It's a play about exploring sexuality as a teenager in an oppressive environment. It displays through its characters how a teen might have to react in this environment, and essentially what choices they have. This is perfectly captured in a quotation by Hanschen -- "the gay one" -- which I can't find. To greatly paraphrase, it says: rebel against the system, be defeated by the system or use the system. Due to its subject matter, it's got some very explicit scenes; I did have to look away! It is a controversial play that has been banned as well as causing theatregoers to simply walk out on it (I observed this personally).

There're some usual takes I share on it and some I don't: oft commented on is the anachronistic soundtrack. The -- definitely not safe for work! -- soundtrack itself (click to hear some samples) is a perfect antidote to the saccharine High School Musical experience. The song which embodied the concepts of the play: comedy which can be quite dark, rebellion and emotional suppression is "Totally Fucked" especially within the context it appeared within the actual play [semispoiler] One of our characters had to face the authoritarian opressors and their punishment [/spoiler].

The original play (and this is a musical) was written in 1891, but as you can see by the soundtrack, loads of changes have been made. To a modern audience, it reminds them of the cost and the reasons for the protection of their current freedom. Its puts into words through the songs what those in 1891 might say if they could speak with the voice of 2009. Or even those who're living in countries right now, where this opression and suppression is the norm.

This play went for the heartstrings and the throat: it goes for the bloody sensationalistic subjects. Even though you'll laugh, the play deliberately leaves you with a Hamlet-esque depressive emotion with the same inevitability of disaster. Hopefully: a lot of modern teenagers won't have too much to empathise with, except if their sexual discovery was tortured. It was painful personally for me due to that, as well as dealing [semispoiler] with talks of suicide, abortion and child abuse [/spoiler]; all of which have affected people I care about in my life and through them, me. Tears were drawn unwillingly out; I was teetering for a while but the moment of breakdown was [spoiler] when Moritz' father broke down too [/spoiler].

I'm a conservative person in many ways. I am the target for the messages of this play ( as well as the solidarity it gives to those who've experienced teenage problems including its aside to homosexuals, although I do have a question mark about the use of them for comic relief. Exclusion of this category was subtle, unlike the other subject matter in the play). It highlights to me that -- regardless of the consequences -- there will always be rebels against the status quo especially if you apply this to such issues as sex and religion. The choice by any society is therefore this: what do you do with them? Kill, imprison, hide them, give in or compromise? Another thing that it highlighted was how freedom of information is a good thing. Giving people the right information is important: the way you protect them is by telling them what this information means and how to handle it, not by suppressing it. A huge inevitability with this is discovering the wrong fragments themselves and applying it with horrible results. Always understand the full possible pros and cons for anything you're doing, for yourself or when you're making the choice for someone else.

There was a Shakesperean quality to the play, which should be clear with some of the observations I'm going to make and have made. The cast was sixteen strong, not including three of which were backing vocals which didn't have any official roles if I remember all this correctly. Out of these, two of them played the various adult figures (assorted parents, teachers, a priest, headteachers, healthcare professionals) wearing practically the same clothes; their ability to differentiate the characters despite this spoke for their fantastic acting ability. No doubt using the same actors was to impress the sameness quality of all authority figures's opression into the audience. The stage and props were minimalistic: the band playing was live on stage as well as some (possibly lucky) members of the audience with chairs on either ends of the stage for them. The chereography and placement of the actors was visually engaging: very symbolism-filled and symmetric, sometimes completely absurd and plain wierd (just like teens!). The actors themselves said miles with their movement and expression, the quality of the singing itself seems fantastic.

The protagonist of the play (Melchior) who is portrayed by Aneurin Barnard is no doubt going to get a fair share of female fans (as implied in the beginning of the play itself, through the female characters), with his emotionally wrought performance of his sexual and rebellious role. Those cheekbones don't hurt either. As an aside: Hanschen for some reason resembled Draco Malfoy (perhaps no coincidence for "the gay one") and Wendla resembled Hermoine from Harry Potter. It wasn't just me. I'm going to blame this on make up. Feel free to disagree!

With coverage by the BBC today and a 14+ age warning, this unique play will probably do well in the West End for a while on the caveat that the younger audiences are motivated to come see it as well as that older audiences aren't alienated by its -- perhaps lowbrow and "indierock" for some? -- presentation. Let's see if it does engage us young peoples, who no doubt think we've seen it all...

Whatever Spring Awakening is, it isn't boring.

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