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Images: Brett Boardman

POSTED: 12 FEBRUARY 2010

Spring Awakening, by Steven Sator & Duncan Sheik (after Frank Wedekind)

Sydney Theatre Company | Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay, Sydney | Until 07 March

Wow! What an amazing, seemingly bottomless pool of outstanding young theatrical talent we have in Australia. And some pretty sensational examples of that talent are strutting their stuff in Sydney Theatre Company’s current production of Frank Wedekind’s often-suppressed 19th-century German classic Spring Awakening.

All 20 or so performers are still very much in the yet-to-be-completely-discovered basket but both individually and as a group they absolutely command the stage, showing not just prodigious talent but confidence and stagecraft that should be beyond their years.

Spring Awakening, written by Wedekind in the early 1890s, is a tale of teen angst — of discovering sexuality, of oppression, of abuse, of repression, of liberation and of revolution. It was banned for many years, ostensibly on grounds of pornography but more realistically because of its emotive and intellectual challenges to the authority of parents, church and state.

The STC’s version is based on Steven Sator’s and Duncan Shiek’s 1999 Broadway reworking of the play into a raunchy, bare-to-the-bones musical that combines haunting classical and blues lines with the sometimes discordant power of punk.

It’s a simple tale with, superficially at least, few surprises. It’s no surprise that the dysfunctional anti-hero Moritz (Akos Armont) is purposely marked down on his exam and kicked out of school; nor that he commits suicide; nor that the even more rebellious hero Melchior (Andrew Hazzard) gets his girl Wendla (Clare Bowden); nor that Wendla becomes pregnant and dies during abortion; nor that there’s revelation of parental abuse and homosexuality.

What is surprising — or maybe shouldn’t be — is the apparent ease with which young director Geordie Brookman and his even more youthful cast carry the performance through. And, they’re helped enormously by some wonderful staging, lighting and music.

There will inevitably be comparisons with another STC teen-angst production, Once and for All We're Going to Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen, presented mid-last-year by Belgium’s Ontroerand Goed company.

It was marvellous, too. The young Belgian performers, however, seemed totally comfortable in their own skins right from the very start, no doubt at least partly through having toured the world together.

On opening night for Spring Awakening there was an understandable tenseness that lasted right through the first half of the show. Perhaps it was some half-time chat and oranges that settled the nerves, or perhaps it was just the rollicking nature of the romping, stomping Totally Fucked that brought everyone totally together.

Whatever, I’m sure that the well deserved and prolonged applause will have settled some nerves. Listen, guys, you’re all absolutely fantastic and you’re all part of a great show. Get out there and enjoy it as much as the audience does.

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