The featured 14 and 15 year olds are imaginative beings speculating about the mysteries of life. Wendla (a touching performance from Lucie Cox), an innocent abroad, eventually succumbs to the well-meaning but prudish refusal of her mother (Rebecca Moore, mature and intense) to recognize her entry into adulthood. Melchior (the impressive and vocally-attractive Will Hatcher), the innocent father of Wendla's unborn baby, is a gifted boy whose thirst for knowledge in a less stifling society might have seen him develop into an original thinker. Moritz (Scott Newman, who has a good stab at an awkwardly declamatory part), Melchior's pal, is undone largely in consequence of the pressure that's placed on him by an unforgiving education system.
The central problem of the piece is, of course, that it was conceived in times utterly unlike our own where sex education features on every primary and secondary school's curriculum; and controversy tends to focus on whether there's too much rather than too little of it about. Director Charlie Parker, the Old Fire Station programmer, believes the play still speaks to us now, and given that she was refused permission to display her publicity material at Debenham's on the grounds that the word 'masturbation' features, suggests she may have a point. Mrs Grundy seems to be alive and well and living in Oxford.
The matter of relevance is, therefore, debatable. But I think there's little question but that the play's something of a mess, particularly about the halfway mark, where Wedekind abandons any attempt at having his characters engage in meaningful dialogue, in favour of endless rhetorical soliloquies so that the play grinds to a halt. This is a pity as Ms Parker's direction is excellent - a simple but imaginative set, plenty of movement, much tact in handling some explicit scenes with amateur, student actors, and she injects the whole cast with as much energy as the rather inert translation will allow. She very nearly succeeds in jerking this museum piece out of the mothballs, to the embrace of which I suspect it will shortly return.