Director Ben Kidd talks Spring Awakening
By Jake Guastella
|After wowing us
with versions of The
Seagull and 1984 last year, Headlong returns to Richmond Theatre with a fresh,
explosive take on Spring Awakening, Frank
Wedekinds provocative 19th
century play about youth that caused riots way back in 1906.|
Director Ben Kidd, who brings the play bang up to date alongside award-winning writer Anya Reiss, tells us about collaborating with Headlong, what Spring Awakening still has to say today, and why the teenage characters in the show double up to play the adult roles.
Ben Kidd during rehearsals
What inspired you to adapt a nineteenth century play for a modern audience?
Headlong really wanted to do Spring Awakening and I came
on board when the play was already in the mix. Id never read Wedekinds original before and
I completely fell for it. I thought it was absolutely extraordinary. I was
blown away by how weird, surprising and hungry it was. To me, the events in the
play feel like they could be happening now. Ive never been particularly interested
in setting plays in the past. What feels much more exciting to me is to make
the audience believe the action is taking place on the day they come to see it.
I thought there was a real ripe opportunity to update
it. The world now is really different to the world the play was written in. The
things Wedekind was angry about,
namely that we dont talk to young people about sex, that has changed, we do
talk to teenagers about sex now. However, there was scope to suggest that in
spite of that change, we are still scared of young people having sex. Despite the fact there is lots of information
about sex for young people, through sex education classes, the internet and Miley Cyrus videos,
teenagers still dont feel particularly well informed.
In the play, why do the teen characters double up to play the adult parts?
Initially it was a practical thing. If youre going to put on Spring Awakening and have an actor playing all the parts youll need a cast of thirty! If you decide to have actors playing more than one role, theres got to be some sort of compelling reason for it. It felt like there might be some interesting territory around the idea that being an adult is no easier than being a kid and involves just as much pretending and dressing up. In fact, you might even argue that its a bit harder to be an adult because you have to pretend to know what youre doing all the time, where as at least when youre a kid you can be honest about the fact that you dont. We never wanted the adults to be seen as monsters, we wanted to show how hard it is to be a parent or a teacher. Having the teen characters double up to play the adult parts seemed like an interesting way to approach this.
Cast members Oliver Johnstone and Daisy Whalley
How did you get the cast back in a teenage mindset in rehearsals?
The cast loved doing that. It was kind of a joyful invitation I think. We all had a lot of fun, mixed with a degree of embarrassment, as we shared our own memories and experiences. We tried to connect with the energy of being 14 or 15 by remembering how vital and important everything seems at that age. I think there was quite a lovely, therapeutic element to jumping around and pretending to be a kid. It was easy because a lot of the cast arent that far out of their teens anyway.
Claudia Grant, Ruby Thomas and Aoife Duffin
What kind of influence do you think the internet and social media has on teenagers today?
We were careful not to try and say, look at the ways teens behave on the internet. We were not trying to make a teenager play, as I think the way in which we interact with the world has changed for all of us. However one thing that always interested me is the way young people now have a much stronger relationship with the visual image when you compare them with my generation growing up 15 years ago. In Wedekinds time young people would probably never see pictures of themselves of any description, let alone of each other. Now teens are confronted with images of themselves and of their friends at every turn. They are constantly shaping the image of how people think of them. I dont know what kind of effect thats had but it feels like theres been a change.
Oliver Johnstone and Bradley Hall
How did you collaborate with Anya Reiss on the project?
It was interesting because Ive never really worked with a writer before in this way. Initially we read the play, hit each other with our ideas and then worked through each draft. One of Anyas gifts is finding a psychological roundness and coherence to the characters that maybe isnt there in the original, as Wedekind wasnt really fussed about that. I was trying to bring the play back in and she was speeding off to try and make this new thing. We just sort of forced it out really.
Anya Reiss with Ben Kidd in rehearsals
Claudia Grant, Daisy Whalley, Adam Welsh, Ekow Quartey and Ruby Thomas
Whats it like being involved in a Headlong show?
To be honest its been an absolute joy because the company is really well established and everyone involved is brilliant. On their website it says, Headlong make exhilarating, risk-taking and provocative new work to take around the country and around the world. I found that really inspiring, they encourage you to go and make something that is your own and hopefully, something that is quite thrilling and quite different. It was nice to have that as a provocation.
Oliver Johnstone and Aoife Duffin
What inspired you to become a director?
I was an actor for a little bit, but I wasnt very good at it. I always like spending time in a room telling stories. I liked the idea of making pictures that are interesting. When I was an actor I got frustrated with not being able to control what the picture looked like I guess. I really enjoy working with actors, I like the thrill and excitement of the whole experience, and I just think its a very special and unique way of interacting with an idea and with a story.
What advice would you give to anyone considering becoming a director?
I think the best piece of advice I can give is to say, just keep doing it, keep trying to make the best things you possibly can. Dont get caught in the trap of trying to be too career-y or of thinking about what other people want you to be. If you want to be a director thats probably because you want to make stories happen, make images happen in a theatre or make moments happen that people will enjoy. Youve got to just commit to that, and just make make make as much stuff as you possibly can.
Spring Awakening is at Richmond Theatre from Wed 7 Sat 10 May.
★★★★ ★ The most thrilling adaptation of
Spring Awakening I have ever seen ... Ben Kidds touring production brims with
the Headlong companys trademark chutzpah.
★★★★ ★ 'In Headlongs
searing update, Wedekinds 1891 childrens tragedy seems both
crazy fresh and old as time.
The Sunday Times
★★★★ 'Ben Kidd's ingenious production makes
this often censored play newly wild and newly convincing.
Publicity shot with the full Spring Awakening cast
A Headlong, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Nuffield co-production.
(Note: The play contains scenes of a sexual and violent nature and strong language throughout. Age guidance 16+)
by Tristram Kenton