Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester; Friday 6th April, 2018
Written by 19th century German dramatist Frank Wedekind, Spring Awakening as a play has been the subject of multiple bans during the last century or so, prompted by the presence of subject matter considered to be unacceptable for the delicate theatre audiences of its day.
The musical version of this show is just over a decade old, and it makes no attempt to soften the issues that led to censorship at the hands of those who once governed mainstream theatre.
Set in a strict and rigid German school in the 1890s, the plot of Spring Awakening is an attack on the repression wrought upon naive teenagers by adults who are simultaneously fierce proponents of book-based formal education yet also hopelessly inept at explaining the basic facts and functions of the real world.
Darragh Cowley and Nikita Johal take the lead roles, playing the rebellious Melchior and the tragic Wendla, respectively. Despite literally asking her mother to explain where babies come from, Wendla never gets an answer, leading to an obvious and inevitable outcome. Melchior seems to be the most clued-up and mature individual amongst his school friends, yet he too knows that he can only push his rebellion so far.
The transitions between acting and singing are superbly handled, each song neatly fitting into and enhancing the unfurling plot. And the rest of the performing cast are all excellent, there are no weak links as the audience is led through a series of sub-plots involving child abuse, teenage pregnancy, bullying, abortion, and suicide.
One of the most notable features of the performance is the fact that the adult authority figures (specifically the teachers and the parents) are made to look like incarnations of pure evil, it comes across very strongly. The adult world is presented as a world of hypocrisy, one where answers to perfectly reasonable questions are never given yet punishments for mistakes are. In contrast the youngsters seem to be meek and timid, almost hopelessly so, as if they are resigned to their fate of perpetual repression.
Both uplifting in terms of musical drive yet simultaneously tragic in terms of story line, Spring Awakening at Hope Mill Theatre is a polished and very professional looking production that wouldn’t look at all out of place on a grander stage. This is a sparkling musical that seems to defy the genre, a bold and defiant production delivered by a talented cast packing huge vocal power and performing passion.
|Visual pleasure||The exposed brickwork of the Hope Mill theatre performing space merged seamlessly into the set to make it look as if everyone was sat in a classroom waiting for lessons to start. Excellent lighting effects also.||4|
|Auditory pleasure||With a mixture of rock and ballads, the musical aspect of this show is outstanding. Flawlessly good singing performances were delivered by the entire cast.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||The show starts as any other musical would but as the more serious elements of the storyline begin to merge in it takes on a different character. It’s refreshing to see the tried and tested high-school-musical genre head off into what ends up becoming a very bleak and sombre direction.||4|
|Artistic delivery||Stunning performances from every participant on stage, all the characters came across clearly and effectively.||5|
|Overall impact||The plot is basically that of a tragedy, yet despite some of the upbeat musical angles taken it actually becomes even more tragic, as if the oppressed students have no escape other than through song. A refreshing change from the usual formula of musicals.||4|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|