Johannes, a young man with pronounced learning difficulties, is in solitary confinement for raping and murdering a young girl. The prison captain Agnes, seeing goodness in the boy, introduces him to Christianity and gains permission for him to live and work on a remote island farm. Sadly, her good intentions don’t come to fruition in this story that disintegrates as quickly as its moral compass does. A strong cast of four help ease the discomfort that abuse and structural weakness encourages, though good performances aren’t enough to redeem The Awakening.
Unn (Joana Nastari) lives alone on the farm she runs whilst her brother is at sea fishing most of the year. Keen to have help, she seeks out Agnes for help finding a suitable farmhand. Nastari is the highlight of the show as she delicately guides Unn’s transformation from cold dictator to accommodating teacher; it’s a marvellous transformation despite the character’s questionable ethics. Alex Dowding’s Johannes is charming and innocent, with the added depth of a violent edge that could emerge at any moment.
Despite the performances, Julian Garner’s script is the problem here. The plot becomes more and more choppy as it goes on, as if Garner cut entire scenes in the last third in order to meet a running time restriction, leaving the whole thing to collapse at sea. The ending offers no resolution or explanation for Unn’s choices, and supporting character Iversen is underwritten and implausible. An interval serves to fragment the story even further and the initial work on relationships to disappear.
The minimalist set by Florence Watts is versatile and indicative of the Scandinavian setting, complimented by Jennifer Rose’s sleek lighting. Director Medelaine Moore captures the rhythm of the scenes well, though she makes some questionable staging choices in the routes through and around the space – they become comical rather than indicative of a location change.
The Awakening feels like the work of an inexperienced playwright, though the production does a fairly good job at realising the characters and ideas that are lightly sketched in the script. It has the potential to be a challenging story; instead it drifts away into nothingness.
The Awakening runs through 24 September.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.