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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind

After a couple of days break from reading and this short play that I finished in a couple hours, I'd say that I'm well and truly recovered from The Divine Comedy. Interesting as it was, it was rather exhausting. So, now to review Spring Awakening, and I'm not quite sure where to begin precisely because I've never reviewed a play before. Personally, I'd prefer to see a stage production before reviewing this, but as far as I know the main version of this that gets performed is the rock opera version, which might be a tad too modern for the subject matter in all honesty. In any case, please be gentle in your criticisms if I bungle this horribly.

Spring Awakening follows a group of 14 year old students as they experience the effects of puberty and the first stirrings of sexuality, hence the title. That in itself would be interesting subject matter, but the setting complicates matters somewhat. Spring Awakening is set in Germany in the 1890s, a time where the transitional period known as being a teenager wasn't acknowledged and where awakening sexuality was viewed as a problem at best. So really, these kids have little to no chance getting out of this play unharmed. I personally really liked the way that the setting limited how these teens can express themselves and their sexuality, although its significance in today's society is certainly less than the impact it had at the time of publication.
So, as this play is essentially an ensemble piece, the most important part of the play would be the characters and their mini plot-lines that mix together to disastrous results. I suppose the main character would be Melchior, although he as a character by himself is less interesting than how he interacts with the other characters' plot-lines; in comparison to the majority of characters, he's well-adjusted, happy with who he is and a free thinker who questions the system around him relentlessly. His best friend, Moritz, goes to him as a confidant, in both sexual and everyday matters; in his case, Moritz's parents are pressuring him to do well academically, but the beginnings of puberty are making it harder to concentrate on keeping his failing grades up than it would be normally. There's Wendla, a teen whose mother insists on treating her like a little girl, for instance insisting, despite Wendla's age, that babies arrive via stork; add an ill advised sexual relationship with Melchior to that utter lack of knowledge and you can probably guess where that story-line goes. Those are the main three characters, with both Moritz and Wendla's seperate story-lines culminating in such a way that disaster is brought upon Melchior for his involvement. They aren't the only characters who go through a spring awakening, but they don't really add anything to the overall story arc. There's Ilse, who decided that school wasn't for her and thus dropped out to become a painter's model. There's Martha, whose parents beat her for silly things like decorating her nightdress with ribbons. And then there's Hans, who is probably my favourite character and probably has the two most shocking scenes (for the time it was written anyway) in the entire play: firstly masturbating to a classical nude whilst re-enacting the murder of Desdemona (I have to applaud him for creativity, even if the image makes me break out into hysterical giggling) and secondly an onstage kiss with his friend Ernst. Overall, the characters are very entertaining, with the teen characters nicely curious and the adults providing a suitably limiting atmosphere. My one complaints about the teen characters would be the dialogue. Now I'm not sure whether this is just a matter of translation or whether this is present in the original German, but to me the teens don't sound like teens. The majority of the characters are supposed to be about 14, but unless it weren't specifically stated, I would have thought that they were about 18-19, only a little younger than me. Maybe it was a culture thing or something, seeing as our current concept of children has only been a comparatively recent development in human society, but despite how hard I try to accept that explanation, there are several lines that just remind me of university discussions. Try this line of Melchior's, as he's discussing Faust, specifically the scene where Faust seduces Gretchen:
"Let's face it, Goethe's masterpiece does not reach it's zenith in that sad little episode. But the way people go on about it - you'd think the whole world revolved around penis and vagina." 
What 14-year-old boys do you know who would talk like that? None, that's how many. To be honest, most of the people I can remember when they were 14 would dissolve into fits of giggles the moment anything sex-related was mentioned, so a line like that just seems wrong coming out of a 14-year-old mouth. From college/university student and older? Now you're entering the realms of possibility.

Despite the problems I have with the overly mature language and diction that the teen characters possess, I did really enjoy this play and I would quite happily agree to viewing a performance of this, should I find one. 4/5

Next review: Beneath the Wheel by Hermann Hesse.

Signing off,

1 comment:

  1. I'll admit I think the language is a result of translation and time period... there was nothing overtly funny about "penis" fifty years ago, so I doubt there would have been a hundred...
    Sounds like an odd read though ;)