Theatre review: Rites: A Children’s Tragedy
Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review: Rites: A Children’s Tragedy at Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33), reviewed by Fiona Shepherd
It is quite frightening just how relevant Frank Wedekind’s controversial play Spring Awakening remains, over a century after its original staging.
Censored and even banned outright during various revivals throughout the 20th century, this candid representation of the sexual stirrings of a group of German teenagers has finally come of age with a successful Broadway musical adaptation and is ripe for fresh exploration in its original theatrical form.
This new adaptation takes the subtitle of the original play as its title and tragic it is, as it traces the fallout for a group of school friends who discover and experiment with pornography, flirting, illicit boozing, sadomasochism and sexual orientation to the enlightenment of a few and the ruination of others.
The boys explore their fantasies, while the girls strain to break out of their corsets and shake their hair free of braids. The cast wear period costume but, thanks to the prescience of the text, this is a modern portrayal of teenage identity.
The action homes in on three children – the naiive, anxious Moritz, his horny and ultimately demonised schoolmate Melchior and the curious Wendla who, on the occasion of her 14th birthday (the same age as Shakespeare’s Juliet), has questions about the facts of life, which are awkwardly stonewalled by her mother.
Authority figures range from embarrassed parents to ignorant and Draconian schoolmasters, all afraid of the truth about their children, as were those who sought to censor the work down the years.
Yet, at a time when unplanned pregnancy, suicide and incarceration rates among teenagers remain depressingly high, Rites is simply a very truthful and powerful piece, wonderfully and intelligently acted here by the 24-strong Young Pleasance ensemble who are always busy, busy on the stage, their urgent sexual inquiry tightly choreographed to the strident sound of the Balanescu Quartet’s scurrying strings.
As harsh reality dawns for our three protagonists, so we arrive at the sad realisation that we still have a long way to go in delivering effective sex education.
MORE INFO: Rites: A Children’s Tragedy at Pleasance Courtyard, until 17 August. Today 1:20pm
Originally published in The Scotsman