This show is a superlative production, a lot of time, thought, passion and drive shining through every performance, musical note, lit stage area and choreographical moment. It is sometimes harder to write in such positive terms about every aspect as it becomes a list of names attached to a positive adjective!
Spring Awakening is a musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 1906 play, the tale of a group of teenagers confronting puberty and their newly discovered sexuality within a repressive family and educational structure which seeks to preserve their innocence. The folk-rock musical score offers a modern spin on the late 19th Century play, with a balance between dynamic numbers such as ‘Totally F****d’ and more intimate ballads such as ‘Touch Me’. The musical’s darkest moments are interspersed with moments of comedic levity, giving the audience some light relief from the onslaught of puberty difficulties. The harmony singing of the final number was just superb, a fitting crescendo for the work Musical Director Ben Quigg has clearly invested in this altogether talented cast, with a spot on band to boot.
I was engrossed in this ensemble piece where everyone was totally focused and consumed by their character, be it main or secondary. James Adams and Phoebe Armstrong were particularly brilliant both vocally and acting, their scenes being some of some of the most striking of the evening. Stripped back, exposed and intimate, the audience was gripped by the sexual tension and curiosity, climaxing at the end of the first act. In Wedekind’s original play, and in previous productions I have seen, there is no doubt that Wendla is raped by Melchior; however, this adaptation left the audience somewhat in the dark, literally at the end. The scene was perhaps more romantic and sensual than Wedekind had originally intended it, though it was well executed and how Adams and Armstrong remained so still in that uncomfortable position at the start of Act 2 is testament to pure dedication to their roles.
Matching them in total believability was John Wilders as Moritz, his nervous twitching and askew hair highlighting physically how out of synch he was with the culture around him. His vocal talent and acting were amazingly heart breaking.
Indeed, by keeping it so simple Director Oliver Johnson has made the action so incredibly intimate that you cannot help but be drawn into it. This allowed for the revelations of beating and abuse to be an even more uncomfortable watch as you were such a part of what was happening 10 feet or so away, the Annex a perfect venue for this show.
The adult cast revolve between two actors playing various forms of authority in the case of mothers, teachers etc. Both Ed Gill and Emma Frazitta flawlessly moved between these roles, the latter particularly enjoying her time with Nick Ong’s piano playing Georg. All the cast have to be unfettered in this show as it deals with such complicated issues and every scene was grabbed with passion and exuberance, complimented by excellently designed and executed choreography by Amy Springett.
Samena Brunning was vocally wonderful as Ilse, her costume perfectly reflecting her escape into bohemia from the more brutal regime of the others, and Josiah Chamberlain took his part very seriously and to great effect, giving his dialogue a colour and wry humour I had not heard before. Charlotte Evans, Will Fieldhouse, Ellen Goggin, Harriet Harding, Gem Tunley and Maciek Shasha completed the talented line up to continual great effect and absorption.
Staging was lit with hues of blue and purple, echoing the finale song redemption lyric, and the use of the isolated corner for reflective lonesome moments was well thought out, adding a layer of distance to the proceedings when needed. The large technical team have clearly worked together to bring such elements so cohesively together.
Not for the faint hearted – the show contains very strong language, uncomfortable sexual scenes, suicide and drug references, but all handled sensitively. Overall, taking all that into account, the seamless transitions, talented acting and vocal strength, beautiful score and a whirlwind of emotions make for an unmissable show.