The doors provide the method in which the characters used to escape their current reality; they seemed to be in a basic form, death or a sexual awakening. Through one door came the parental figures and those who had a taste of sexual knowledge or lust offered in mugs. The offerings were weak and full of lies not designed to help the awakening, indeed causing the main dramas. Through the other door came the ever inviting death, pitched during the performance as the only real escape. The characters alternate as to how they enter the doors, willingly with huge bursts of energy and smiles, or fearful, ensuring that the purposely not clear language interactions are matched with the revealing action.
The strong themes of sexual abuse and suicide are clear from the very beginning as the characters almost uncaringly throw out their feelings and experiences, less to us and more to themselves. Matha, played by Karin McCracken, is a beaten and abused young girl who we are told of the horrific nature of her life in the hands of her strict parents. She spends the rest of the play more or less invisible, no doubt as she tries to make herself to her parents. Her abuse is never dealt with, only spoken of and seemingly has no effect on her other than to make her solitary. Her sexual awakening to share a kiss with another female Thea, played by Fran Olds, is then never discussed or explored again and feels like a throwaway to the types of relationships available for exploration, instead of a meaningful addition.
Moritz, played by Riley Brophy, always slightly on the outskirts of everything, including on the outer limits of acceptable grades. He makes mention of suicide from the very beginning, starting with meaningless comments and becoming more fervent and desperate the longer he lives, and even later still clinging to suicide being an answer to problems presented. Ilse, played by Acushla-Tat Sutton, played a free spirited playful creature skilfully. She seems to dance through her sexual awakening with a laughing attitude towards death that hastens Moritz to a form of strength of mind to take action. Aware of this, when she goes in after him the tension is palpable and breaths are held, a great moment in the performance.
Another gripping moment was from Hanschen, played by Tom Clarke, who was our ‘normal’ boy. He spoke to the girls from the start, life seems easy for him. A major part of the teenage sexual awakening is the first time we become aware of ourselves and the pleasure we can have alone in service to the ‘itch’ that plagues us. Clarke is spellbinding in the moment, portraying reaching those dizzy heights with a dedication that fair leaves us breathless.
The most beautiful portrayal of abuse that I’ve ever seen takes place with Melchior, played by Josh Cramond, and his ‘love interest’ Wendla, played by Brynley Stent. These two are in a constant dance of teens, that gets taken too far amidst protestations from Wendla. The waterfall of intense emotion is a perfect expression and we are on the edge of our seats suffering our own horrors in watching. Stent is a captivating presence onstage the entire performance. Even bathed in shadows and sadness you find your eye drawn to her actions.
The themes of a sexual awakening and suicide, are portrayed by so many real issues that women and men face. The idea that a short skirt symbolises innocence is ripped into pieces when a short skirt flouncing is portrayed as one of the main causes of her rape, and is replaced with a longer one in an attempt to cover up her shame along with her pregnancy. The horror of this whole storyline resonates through me. The fact that the rapist is never addressed for his crimes other than the crime of writing about sex is abhorrent and all too close to reality for many young teens fumbling exploits.
Walking out of the theatre I was confused about my choices in exploring about how I felt about the performance. It would seem that I was forced to think of it only one of two ways, similar to the doors the characters were pushed or pulled through. I could care or I could give up fighting. I could ignore all of the portrayed abuse and statements of sexism that unfolded and were brushed away, and focus on the way the performance deals with these aspects in order to bring light to them. Perhaps that’s the point of the script; to make us feel isolated from the characters, frustrated by the experiences and like there is a lack of hope that things will get better, that injustice will be punished.
Would I recommend going to see Spring Awakening at BATS Theatre? Yes. The actors performances are skilful and as previously mentioned, completely mesmerising. However, if you have as intense a reaction to the themes explored as I did, I wouldn’t say that you’ll enjoy how it makes you feel. More that you’ll have notes on how to better have those early awakening conversations with our children in a desire to save them from suffering the same fates.