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Festival Studio Theatre

Amateur production company TBC are back again with another fine musical. But although their last venture was full of jolly japes, this one based on the controversial play of Frank Wedekin is a much more intense and shocking piece.

Even in the beginning as the audience was taking its time to be seated, a little tableau was being painted on stage. A group of young people are hanging out together; the schoolboys are gadding about with each other and the girls are huddling close and sharing secrets. It’s only a little later that we are introduced to another character, a rather dreamy, awkward girl who is being kept at a distance from the others. You see her trying to connect with her peers, but there is quite clearly a shunning at work here.

The show hadn’t even properly begun and yet I was already quite moved by this little window that gives us a glimpse at these lovely characters society. And ‘society’ is a very important aspect of this whole production. The interesting thing though, was the fact that the girl in question; Ilse (Sally Pugh) who was so heavily featured in this opening vignette, is actually not a main character in the play! In a matter of fact she’s barely in it, which is an interesting touch. Ilse represents “a cautionary tale” to the other characters, as these youngsters from Germany in the late 1800s live in a rather draconian way. Here in this society, the word of the adult is law. And there seems to be no real segway between child to adult, as certainly the idea of a teenager was a long way from being conceived.

And in relation to the latter word, it certainly fits in well with the opening scene. It concerns our young heroine Wendla (Grace Cowley); a girl who is aunt now to a second baby but yet still doesn’t know where they come from! And she’s certainly not buying the line from her mother that they’re being delivered from the stork! The mother’s behaviour is a bit of a contradiction in terms, as although she is filling her child with all this nonsense, she is also telling her that she should behave more grown up. This capriciousness of adulthood is central to the whole experience, because although they fill the children’s heads with all their rules and ideals, they’re perfectly willing to break these themselves when they see fit. And this behaviour is picked up upon by these confused and inquisitive youths. The only one who seems to be ahead of this game is the rebellious maverick Melchior Gabor (Kieran Hannigan). Who tries to impart his worldly ways to his fidgety best friend Moritz (Fraser Shand) but with alas, not the best results…

 The format for this musical is also quite curious, because although this play is set in the past; when the youths sing their songs, the lyrics are of a more modern nature, akin to how a teenager would speak today. Pugh and Cowley are very powerful singers. Particularly Pugh; she has an almost gospel quality in her vocal range. And I was certainly shocked by the rather disturbing nature of the song she sung called “The Dark I know Well”.

We also get some fine performances from Rae Lamond and Steve Griffin who play all the adult women and men respectively, as they add their subtle nuances here and there. Director Louise Sables truly exudes the best performances out of her troupe. Particularly in one scene where young and old are moshing it up!

But for all my praises, there were a couple of things that stood out for me in an odd way. The first being that the cast for some reason is being made to speak with American accents and the other is the fact that these cast of ‘children’ appear to be mainly in their twenties.  I imagine if they had been in their teens it would have had even more of an impact. But even with these quirks it certainly is a very powerful and moving show.

Markus Helbig


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