The Italia Conti Ensemble’s rendition of Spring Awakening is a well-directed and expertly performed take on Frank Wedekind's controversial play. Sexual repression and erotic fantasy are evoked by the large cast, every member of which is constantly present and involved in creating the symbolism or atmosphere of each scene. The sexually repressed society of the 19th century and the erotic fantasies from which it results are related through the devastating story of two blossoming schoolmates: the overly-curious Melchior, and the naïve, innocent Wendla.
Sheets of simple, thin white cloth that are draped across the stage provide visually effective but simple scene changes.
Alex Stevens in the role of Melchior convincingly relates the confident attitude of the fourteen-year-old non-believer, whose intelligence and ability to philosophise exceed that of his peers. Small-statured Stevens skilfully translates the premature coming-of-age of a young man who falls victim to his own curiosity and passions. The use of two actresses, Lucie Shorthouse and Yasmin Keita, to convey Wendla’s passage from girl to womanhood works very well, especially as the younger actress remains on stage for the rest of the show, the perpetual, ghostly reminder of a child’s innocence lost.
The cumbersome 19th century costuming expresses the individual’s battle between virtue and vice. The male members of the cast playing schoolchildren are dressed in impractical waistcoats and long suit jackets that emphasise their efforts at growing into roles that society has set for them as men. Wendla wears a tight-looking white dress when she ‘grows up’ which covers her from the neck down, emphasising the tragic contrast between her uncontainable surging womanhood and her sexual naiveté.
The musical aspect of the performance is a real highlight. Outbreaks of harmonious singing add texture to the performance, while most of the actors take up an instrument at some point of the play: the tranquil tonality of the violin rapidly transforms into anguished cries of tragedy and heightens the emotional intensity of the performance.
The cast of thirteen actors, though, is somewhat large for the plot’s needs. At times it makes the stage seem too busy; it would benefit from being pared back a little. On the other hand, it does allow for elaborate physical symbolism on the part of the actors, an all-hands-on-deck approach allowing for smooth staging transitions. Instances where the cast move as one poignantly translate the predatory viciousness of mob mentality. Sheets of simple, thin white cloth that are draped across the stage provide visually effective but simple scene changes. Moreover, a developed use of books as props serves as a weighty reminder of the dangers of refusing knowledge to curious children, who will find things out for themselves eventually through trial and - sometimes fatal - error.
The Italia Conti Ensemble’s performance is gripping and professional. Although the staging seems a little messy at times, it is an enjoyable performance that effectively scrutinises the repercussions of social taboos, secrets and restrictions on the individual.