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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Spring Awakening, theatre review

Published in The Guardian

Spring Awakening

Traverse, Edinburgh
4 out of 5

It must have been tempting to go down The Inbetweeners route. However outrageous the E4 teen comedy gets, there is little in its portrayal of adolescent angst that Frank Wedekind didn't do first in Spring Awakening. By using translator Douglas Maxwell, a playwright with a catalogue of coming-of-age dramas, Grid Iron theatre company could have opted to refashion Wedekind's 1891 play (banned in the UK until 1965), as a modern-day black comedy about sexual repression and ignorance.

Instead, director Ben Harrison's reference points are of an older sort in this Traverse co-production. He evokes the austere schoolroom of Kantor's Dead Class, the labial illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley and – for light relief – the teacher in The Bash Street Kids comic strip, black mortarboard and all. Far from the world of social networking, the landscape these children inhabit is as colourless as Ali Maclaurin's monochrome set, a place of black-and-white adult certainty where it is easier to deny bodily passions than confront them in their Technicolor variety.

Maxwell's version gives the play a Scottish west-coast inflection (they read Confessions of a Justified Sinner instead of Faust) and makes some nips and tucks to cope with a reduced cast size, but needs make no adjustment to give the scenes of masturbation, flagellation, abortion and homosexuality their troubling edge.

In a rare departure from site-specific performance, Harrison brings the kind of actor-centred resourcefulness for which Communicado was once famed. The first-rate cast turns the desks into a pack of howling dogs, creates props by drawing chalk lines on the stage and uses blackboards to suggest everything from weapons to wanking. There is a cheeky, understated wit at work as every chalk penis – drawn with schoolboy relish – ends up positioned in front of the actors' groins. It is this lightness of touch, echoed in the performances of Gail Watson as a lusty middle-aged mother and Gavin Marshall as a head teacher from hell, that offsets the intensity of the teens' troubled sexual awakening.

As Philip Pinsky's score swings from pretty melodies to ominous rumbles, the production pulls us from amusement to concern, taking us confidently towards the supernatural conclusion. Staged without an interval, the play reveals its shocking modernity even as it describes a bygone era, capturing the head-versus-heart tension that occupies us still when private desire meets social decorum.

Until 13 November. Box office: 0131-228 1404.

© Mark Fisher 2010 (Picture: Richard Campbell)

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