Review By Regan Baker
It’s been seemingly forever since I last had the privilege of attending the beautiful Home of the Arts Theatre on the Gold Coast, so I didn’t even need to wait for the thinking music before I said yes to this review of ‘Awakening’ by Good Time Theatrics. It is somewhat melancholic however, that I sit here writing this review just minutes after the announcement of a snap Southeast QLD lockdown knowing that the remaining performance of this powerful show will not be able to proceed as scheduled.
Adapted from the controversial 1891 expressionist drama, ‘Spring Awakening,’ this Australian re-write challenges convention and breaks the fourth wall to deliver a powerful and memorable message that deserves the ear of every man, woman and young adult on this Earth. Grown from the brilliant mind of Daniel Lammin, ‘Awakening’ follows a group of schoolfriends as they navigate their development into adulthood in a sexually oppressive society that refuses to acknowledge the birds, the bees and the importance of mental health awareness. The plot develops over the course of two acts and unveils their deeply traumatic transition into adulthood, which is scarred by sexual assault, abuse and suicide.
‘Awakening’ is very much a show of two halves.
The first act is more traditional in its characterisation and delivers an effective interpretation of nineteenth century Berlin, holding itself somewhat in line with the original text. The costuming and performance from the cast held true to theme and created an environment that transported the audience to an era where religious conformity was strongly preferenced over sexual understanding and education.
The second act fast-forwards to contemporary Australia where this story from over one-hundred years ago is tragically, still relevant, and the journey of our protagonists carries on as if nothing has changed. This stark juxtaposition demonstrates the prevalence of acceptance that change is not occurring quickly. While yes, talk of the need to change laws and attitudes towards sexual violence, domestic abuse, depression and anxiety is sharply on the rise, meaningful action is not.
As a whole, I walked away from ‘Awakening’ deeply moved by the importance of Wendla’s final outcry over the usual ending to this story. Frank Wedekind’s original text sees Wendla pass away from a botched post-rape abortion while Melchior walks away relatively unscathed This adaption however, breaks the fourth wall, throws the script out the window and literally says “f*** that.” The importance of not placing blame on victims of sexual assault can not be more important and Wendla standing up to Melchior and saying (in loose recollection of the script), “You don’t get to apologise, you don’t get to try and feel better about this,” was incredibly powerful. It was a strong and befitting ending and a message that needed to be heard.
I did say “as a whole” because while I left HOTA deeply moved by the closing message, I wasn’t without reservation of the entire performance; mainly – the first act. Responsibility of my concern does not fall on the cast however, but the script. Being that the first half of the performance is set in the 1900’s, the humour was dry and the combination of the tone and theme of the story left me a little flat going into interval. These concerns were quickly quashed coming into the second act with the haunting juxtaposition of an acoustic cover of Taylor Swift’s Love Story playing over the top of the recollection of Wendla’s assault. While horrific and quite confronting, the performance from Claire Argente left goosebumps running down my spine and I was at a loss for words.
Under the direction of Kurtis Laing, ‘Awakening’ was in very safe hands. The stage was simple and allowed the audience to focus on the destructive words and actions of each character and Laing ensured our focus was constantly drawn to key pieces of text. His selection of music built atmospheric pressure through contrasting the innocent sound of soft strings against the violent thoughts and actions of young men. As the play shifted from 1900’s Germany to contemporary Australia, the music shifted also from classical strings, to modern pop.
As Wendla, Argente was brilliant throughout. She encapsulated the soul of innocence and her growth as a character throughout the performance was executed with excellence. She was charming and light-hearted, but able to fire in the dying moments of the play and throw everything she had at Melchior in condemning his actions and his fate.
Drew Buchanan’s portrayal of Melchior was disturbing and haunted. He delivered a character that seemed without happiness and without good intentions. Moritz considered him a great friend, but his interactions with her always seemed stale and poignant and even with Wendla his voice never seemed to rise. His characterisation was dark, his actions darker and overall came off effectively psychopathic.
The creative decision to cast Moritz character as a woman elevated the power of the thematic performance as a whole. A young woman fighting against gender stereotypes, anxiety and depression in order to progress in her academic future and defy the expectations of her family was an emotional and heartbreaking story. Sophie Wickes, who played the character, delivered one of my favourite performances of the evening. Tears constantly lingered on the edge of her eyes as she battled with her isolation and mental health. Her short, wispy responses to Melchior and her heavy eyes created a true sense of dread and lingering sadness that made me just want to jump on stage and give her a hug.
Bridie Middleton delivered a spirited, free-willed Isle, who was wise above her years, while Brittany Hetherington gave us a fun-loving and enjoyable Martha. Christopher Paton and Kurtis Laing produce an energetic and child-like innocence in their romance as Hansy and Ernst respectively.
I may have had my issues with the first act, but I am not going to hold Good Time Theatrics accountable for the delivery of the script. The message was strong, and important. The execution powerful. And overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this re-imagining of a story that still hits so close to home some 130 years later.