JOYCE MCMILLAN on SPRING AWAKENING at the MacRobert Theatre, Stirling, for The Scotsman 1.6.11
4 stars ****
YOU HAVE to hand it to the Liverpool-based Sell A Door Theatre Company. They may have the worst company name in the whole crowded world of shoestring theatre; but they also have the the nerve, the wit and the talent to stage the first-ever UK touring production of Sheik and Sater’s award-winning Broadway 2006 rock-musical version of one of the most controversial plays ever written, and to make a thrillingly good job of it.
Written in 1891, but banned for decades thereafter, Frank Wedekind’s astonishing play famously deals with the subject of teenage sexuality, and repressive adult attitudes to it. Teenage sex, pregnancy and abortion, homosexuality, self-harm, masturbation, exam pressure and teenage suicide – all of these still-burning issues emerge from the play with a clarity that remains shocking even today; and although the social circumstances have changed, Duncan Sheik’s soulful rock score – part Sondheim with an electric guitar, part undergraduate heavy metal – makes a perfect, angry job of capturing the truth that middle-aged people will still seize any excuse to disapprove of young people doing what comes naturally, from Bible-belt religiosity to anxiety about their educational prospects.
Pete Gallagher’s production – featuring an excellent young cast of 12, and a four-piece onstage band – is heartfelt, clever, and well-paced; and if the ending plays fast and loose with Wedekind’s spooky conclusion, the rest of the show is as true as a die to the spirit of his mighty play, and as powerful in shaking the audience out of its complacency, about a civilisation still too often founded on the suppression of all that makes life sweet.