Frank Wedekind, adapted by Douglas Maxwell
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Grid Iron chalk up another hard punching hit with this 1891 German play which has been very much in vogue over the last few years. There has been an explosion of productions of Spring Awakening and even a rock musical version. Though Grid Iron are perhaps a little late to the party, they have stamped their version very much with their style.
There is chalk, for a start, a lot of chalk. In an extreme take on the Victorian school room, the blackboard extends far beyond the classroom, with the black stage being marked out with chalk to form different locations and pieces of set. Props are drawn out on small black slates and the teachers look like their faces are covered in chalk. The infamous onstage masturbation is rendered through vigorous chalk activity on a slate.
Grid Iron have also very definitely set the play in Scotland, though they have kept the time period roughly the same. The Scottish accents do add something to the play, particularly the strict parents.
While there is a lot symbolism and surreal elements, the adolescents, though played by significantly older actors, do manage to get the reality of adolescence into their performance. Wendla (Kirsty Stuart) and Melchior (Gavin Wright) are the central two characters with many of the other characters, particularly the adults, being less three dimensional. Both Stuart and Wright combined really strong portrayals of the confusion of youth, with some quite eloquent speeches.
Moritz was also proved an important character, mainly due to Finn den Hertog's sympathetic performance. Moritz is much more introverted than his rebellious friend Melchior, but it was Melchior who provided the play with some of its more moving scenes.
The play does still shock, but not for its displays of masturbation and boy-on-boy kissing: it is in the violence on the children by the adults. There were two scenes in the play that had me virtually covering my eyes, Wendla's abortion, which was too dark for words, and Moritz' speech before his suicide. To see this vulnerable character that Hertog really brings to life grappling with idea of taking his own life is really quite heart-breaking.
More than anything what Grid Iron brought out of Spring Awakening was the frustration of being at that time in your life when you are nearly adult but the older adults still have all the control.
Reviewer: Seth Ewin