Dean Johnson’s production of this sombre musical draws out mature performances from its cast – but you are left wondering if the story in fact makes for a good musical…
(c) Eliza Wilmot.
It is always a slight concern of mine seeing a bit of a detailed explanation of what a show is about in its programme that is clearly thought necessary for the audiences to know. But it is even more so when you leave the production feeling that the story is better as a play than a musical – despite the best efforts of the cast and production team to make it so.
The story follows the fortunes of a group of teenagers who are about to discover the pleasure and turmoil that being sexually awakened in an oppressed society, that ultimately leads to tragedy. At the centre of it all are Wendia, a girl who has been kept in the dark about reproduction and Melchior who is knowledgeable about sex – but together their actions lead to grief and tragedy.
Performed by the British Theatre Academy, this is a really intense piece of work that draws out many mature performances from its cast but I can’t help but feel that they would have benefitted from performing the play as opposed to the musical version.
This is not down to the quality of the music by Duncan Sheik or the lyrics by Steven Sater, which offer up some truly haunting moments – with songs such as ‘Left Behind’ and the soulful ‘I Believe’ adding sincerity to the show which can be lacking elsewhere, but it can also be distraction from the topics uncovered in the story. The book (also by Steven Sater) makes the story come across as clunky, awkward and oddly static that doesn’t allow the audience to feel fully engage with what the characters are going through. This is particularly noticeable when subplots are not developed or followed through properly – such as when Martha reveals her father’s abuse nothing more is heard of it for the rest of the show.
However, director Dean Johnson and The British Theatre Academy cast offer up a relatively strong production that handles all of the issues covered within the musical with great sensitivity that makes it ring true for audiences, despite the occasional microphone issues that make it difficult to hear what is going on in places. There are several moments in particular that really stand out and highlight the quality of the performances – not least the awkward mother and daughter chat about reproduction or Martha revealing the extent of her father’s abuse towards her.
The production is also strong in the way it conveys the image of the oppressed society that the characters are living in, that actually brings to mind The Handmaid’s Tale in many respects. PJ McEvoy’s prison style set perfectly captures the grimness of the situation, while Matt Nicholson’s energetic and sharp choreography highlight’s the teenager’s frustration and desires.
As always with the British Theatre Academy it is great to see new talent emerging in their productions and Max Harwood as Melchior and Charlotte Coe as Wendla make for strong leading roles, offering characters with great depth and capturing the passion in the final scene of the first act with maturity. Elsewhere, James Knudsen perfectly captures Moritz’s vulnerability and self-doubt and Sadie Hurst as Martha perfectly brings to life the struggles that all the teenagers face in her wonderful rendition of ‘The Dark I Know Well’.
While this is a bold choice for the British Theatre Academy to choose and it should be applauded once more for the energy and dedication from all of the cast and creative team, it is more down to the quality of the book and the fact the story that doesn’t quite work as a musical in my opinion that lets this show down.
By Emma Clarendon
Spring Awakening will continue to play at the Stockwell Playhouse until the 18th August. For more information visit:http://www.stockwellph.com/upcoming-shows/2018/8/16/spring-awakening.