Spring Awakening, we are told, is a play about a group of children growing up. It has survived its early 19th-century roots somewhat surprisingly given its controversial nature, dealing with all taboo topics under the sun, but takes shape comfortably on the Spazju Kreattiv stage in a new adaptation produced by Adrian Buckle for contemporary viewers.

Staged between November 4-6 and 11-13, with its final show this evening, the new adaptation of Spring Awakening by Brad Birch turns the original play into a subject – an item for the scrutiny of a new set of characters not as far removed from the original as they would like.

The original radical and controversial German play Spring Awakening was written by the dramatist Frank Wedekind sometime between 1890 and 1891, only premiering in 1906.

Sub-titled A Children’s Tragedy, it explores ideas pertaining to sexuality, child abuse, abortion and suicide in an oppressive 19th-century context. Teeming with erotic fantasies, intimations of homosexuality and other such portrayals of transgression, the play has often been banned or censored lest it might offend polite society.

It should be stated from the outset that the choice to adapt the play for 21st-century audiences was itself well judged, second only to the eloquent manner of its adaptation.

The play opens with a burst of energy typical of the young – explosive and chaotic and unshackled. Punk rock music ushers them in as they flood the stage, filling every corner of the chalkboard floor with their assertions – acts of will and agency blossoming in youth, withering with age. An actor sets the tone of what’s to come: “everyone’s wrong,” he tells us – a teenage sneer at the present shoddy state of things.

Their uniforms (designed by Sarah Buckle), grey and drab with hints of colourful individu­ality peeking out (how I wish I wore more colourful socks during my convent school days!) carry the marks of their chalk assertions all throughout – they all wear they agency with prominence and unflinchingly.

This new production adds a new layer of narrative atop the original which dips and takes from this what it finds most necessary, much like how a modern viewer might transpose the original play onto his own frames of reference.

This new layer of narrative takes the form of a teenage troop of actors who, under the instruction of their director Michael (Paul Portelli), find themselves en route to produce an obscure German play about “a group of children growing up”, namely Spring Awakening.

The actors gave a spirited, sophisticated performance

As Michael announces this new direction to the troop, he tells them casting has already been done and that each should go pick up the script for their prescribed roles in the play.

Luke (Alex Weenink), who is much too agreeable for his own good, would rather not play the part of Moritz, a lesser character than Melchior, who is played by the arrogant Marco (Jamie Busuttil Griffin).

Bella (Greta Holland) does not quite understand why she was chosen as the lead character Wendla. She finds Marco rather appealing despite her better judgement (ah, to be a teenager making teenage mistakes!). Marco gives her a quasi monologue about capitalism, socialism and existence in one fell swoop (ah, to be a teenager spouting intellectual hubris!).

The characters sitting on their chalk assertions as they are told about the play they will soon produce.The characters sitting on their chalk assertions as they are told about the play they will soon produce.

The non-teenage audience can perhaps see right through the painfully familiar adolescent interactions but can recognise the feelings and thought processes distinctly.

As they meet to rehearse their parts and delve deeper into the 19th century play, a growing sense of unease starts to unfold, both as the group begins to splinter due to internal strife, but also due to the sense that the play means more to Michael than he lets on.

They accuse him of using the play for his own self-realisation (his departed sister’s life mirrors very much that of Wendla). He tells them the play is for them to learn about life and its complexities. “What am I supposed to be learning from this?” Bella asks him, exasperated that she must kiss Marco during rehearsals even after they have fallen out and fractured, much like Melchior and Wendla do.

In the end, the troop refuses to participate further in the strange play, telling Michael in no uncertain terms that neither he nor the play speaks for them.

Directed by James Grieve, each of the actors gave a spiri­ted, sophisticated performance at once engrossing and convincing. The choice of music was also spot on, although perhaps cut too abruptly at times (though this is a very minor qualm indeed).

It is heartening to see an adaptation that revives and enlivens a piece that might otherwise be lost to time, but it is much more heartening to see the spirit of youth in all its fury – an antidote to nihilism if there ever was one.

The last showing of Spring Awakening takes place at Spazju Kreattiv today at 7pm. Tickets from here

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