Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening

The British Theatre Academy presents a new production of Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening at the Stockwell Playhouse.

Set in late nineteenth century Germany, Spring Awakening tells the tragic story of teenagers unprepared for adult life. It is based on the 1891 play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, and the musical first hit Broadway in 2007, where it scooped a whopping eight Tony Awards. Starved of information about the world and their own bodies, the headstrong young Melchior (Max Harwood), his anxious pal Moritz (James Knudsen) and the confused Wendla (Charlotte Coe) make life-destroying decisions in this cautionary tale of an oppressive state.

The British Theatre Academy, who promote accessible theatre training for those aged under 23, is the perfect company to take on the challenge of Spring Awakening. Its young performers hold little back in portraying some of its harsher themes of the musical, such as child abuse, suicide and underage sex. It is not an easy watch, and is at times a real punch to the gut, as a story of tragic ignorance plays out on stage.

Max Harwood grows tremendously throughout the play, gaining in confidence as his Melchior progresses from cocky young radical to a grieving and distraught man. His agony, particularly in the latter points of the show, is particularly affecting. Meanwhile, Charlotte Coe does an apt job capturing the naivety of the young Wendla, a character that is probably the hardest to decipher in a modern country where every teenager has access to a computer with all the knowledge they need. James Knudsen is the real shining star here, however, beautifully depicting one young man’s anxiety and infusing his performance with something very honest and humane – which makes Moritz’s story all the more painful to swallow. Some of the smaller roles are also deserving of praise, Sadie Hurst’s Martha carries one of the most painful performances of the show, while Jamie Heward and James Dodd offer a brief and sweet escape from all the angst.

 

The music is some of the most striking of recent musicals, consisting of an understated alternative rock score. There isn’t too much in the way of choreography, although using dance to illustrate the emotional pain in some songs works well. This is done with great effect in ‘The Dark I Know Well’, a particularly hard-hitting number with a choreographed accompaniment depicting power. ‘Totally F*****’ is a highlight – easily the number the cast look most at home doing, and a big crowd-pleaser on press night. Unfortunately, in some numbers than feature the entire cast, such as the show closer ‘The Song of Purple Summer’, the stage at Stockwell Playhouse can barely accommodate its large cast, leaving the number looking wild and cramped on stage.

Some interesting staging choices add a lot to the musical, which is for the most part set in a bare, grey room that functions as a school, children’s homes and a graveyard. There is a dystopian air of hopelessness about it which lends well to the stories of the teenagers. One particularly powerful choice was the use of individual lockers as graves, with a member of the ensemble sitting behind each, demonstrating that inside each of these represents a person who has passed.

It’s not a perfect production. It obviously lacks the pacing and precision of larger-scale productions of this same musical, meaning at times an audience’s attention can drift – especially when the content is such relentless pain. Some of the sound mixing is off, with some singers struggling to be heard properly over the music or the choir of voices. If there’s such thing as too much dry ice, this is probably bordering it – though it does look pretty cool. That all said, it is a great achievement from a young cast of talented performers – from which I am sure there is plenty to look forward to in the future.

 

~ a guest review by Susy Brett