The play is set in a slightly abstract, bourgeois Germany in the 1890s. There's lots of fin de siecle repression and anxiety, but also a very weird Picnic at Hanging Rock atmosphere – something to do with all the adolescent boys and girls wondering around in the countryside with mysterious urges they don't know what to do with. The teenagers all have their own concerns, and in common with most adolescents, they behave as if their concerns are pretty much the central dilemma of the universe. Scholarship boy Moritz desperately wants to prove himself through his exam results, while his best friend Melchior is a mess of sexual frustration and intellectual rebellion. The girls are having just as hard a time. Martha (who isn't in the play much at all, which is a shame), is being regularly beaten by her parents, while Wendla genuinely doesn't know what sex is, despite the fact she's going to need to know pretty soon.
The playwright, Frank Wedekind gets the preoccupations of teenagers right, it's just the characterisation and dialogue I have an issue with. All the characters spend half their time waxing lyrical about their problems, and their long speeches are full of poetry and literary allusions. And apart from Moritz, they all seem utterly comfortable and happy in their skins. Skins! That's what we need here – the mumbling awkwardness and hide-behind fringes that you get in the Channel 4 drama. And you can't just blame the period. L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between was written and set yonks ago, and that does the whole teenage thing much more believably.
The florid dialogue also makes individual scenes a little hard to follow, and there were moments when the plot became a bit obscure. This is particularly true after the interval, when everything goes a bit bonkers. There's some really interesting but deeply weird scenes in the second half, including a particularly bizarre one in which a doctor does an entire consultation in Chinese. By the end, my head was spinning a little. But it is fascinating nonetheless. The last scene was especially powerful and thought-provoking.
I have to mention how good the acting is in this performance. The lines are read impeccably, and there's a really attractive confidence to all the performers. The scene at the start of the second half, where the schoolchildren mimic their masters, is really outstanding. Sam Caird, who plays the tragic Moritz, probably gets the most pathos and sympathy out of his character.
This is an exceptionally professional production, but I'm not sure that many punters will warm to the play itself. I think it's supposed to be funny in parts, but it really isn't, and the feeling of having the meaning of the play so thoroughly obscured from the audience isn't that much fun. And be warned, this play contains a 'soggy biscuit' scene. Nice.