45DS MUST Awakening - photo by Theresa HarrisonAwakening is a reimagining of the play, Spring Awakening, which dates back to 19th Century, as well as the musical, adapted in 2006. Writer / Director Daniel Lammin and the creatives at Monash Uni Student Theatre have unstitched these translations and adaptations and woven together something familiar, yet unique.

The play is staged mostly in the round, with audience on three sides of a square. The remaining side is taken up by a raised platform, where the actors sit when not required. A square is a rigid object, safe and conforming, but when the actors step down into it the action is anything but. Whether accidental or not, it reinforces the depth and power of these teenager’s inner, hidden lives. What lies beneath?

Not everything worked. Characters were shared among actors, which made the narrative hard to follow in places. It’s a little unfortunate when following the story requires paying more attention to the brief projected chapter summaries instead of the action itself.

However, any detractions were minor compared with what worked. A recurring feature was the distortion of any adult character’s voice. Speeches might begin in blackout, or, as with Wendla’s mother, be doubled up. From Wendla’s point of view, her mother is a comfort, but she’s also a cacophony – the unsettling bigger voice of an authority figure.

Changing costumes from traditional to modern was a good visual touch, while various bouts of lip syncing elsewhere were given all the glorious fervour of a RuPaul’s Drag Race elimination round. While some characters fit different members of the ensemble better than others, Nicole Dupree, Imogen Walsh, Samantha Hafey-Bagg, Sam Porter, Eamonn Johnson, and James Macher all showed great physical commitment and fearlessness.

Speaking of fearlessness, perhaps the most wonderful moment came from the playwright. Near the end of the play comes a sharp departure from the expected story, courtesy of a blistering monologue delivered in terrific fashion by Nicole Dupree. Much like the character of Conrad from Stupid F**king Bird, who refuses to play the victim any longer in Chekhov’s story, so to does Wendla make a different choice.

Nicole has the right amount of vitriol, but what could have been just a rant is made larger and cast out further thanks to the qualities of sadness and frustration in her voice (considering we’re in 2017 and the things she says to Melchior still have to be explained and defended to people in real life – I imagine frustration was not a difficult emotion to locate).

Ultimately, Daniel and his cast have succeeded in not creating a time capsule – a show whose themes are more applicable to an earlier time. Instead they’ve built a compelling work of theatre that for good and ill is still very much relevant.

fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 11 May 2017 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 21 May 2017
Information and Bookings:

Image: Awakening – photo by Theresa Harrison

Review: David Collins