With a long string of five star reviews and eight Tony awards for the production on Broadway, expectations for the new production of Spring Awakening at the Novello Theatre have been built sky high, and rightly so. Whipping out microphones as mouthpieces for the inner turmoil, trials and tribulations of teenage existence, the cast, the majority of whom are making their professional stage debuts, do great justice to the characters and to all youths who have faced repressive forces over the ages. The show is recommended for audiences aged 14 +.
Based on the play by Frank Wedekind, and directed by Michael Mayer, Spring Awakening tells the story of a group of teenagers’ lives, set against the backdrop of the German educational system at the end of the 19th century. Wedekind depicts this system in which he was educated, where students were subject to scrupulous discipline and the suicide rate amongst school children was increasingly on the rise.
Aneurin Barnard as Melchior is outstanding, striking a balance between sensitive and intelligent schoolboy and sex-teaching, arse-whipping rebel. Marvellously accompanied by Charlotte Wakefield as Wendla, he embarks on a journey of coming of age encumbered by issues such as teenage pregnancy, abortion and suicide. But by no means does this turn the show into an exhibition of teenage angst. With lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, the sound of indie rock blended with beautiful and powerful voices from the cast creates a powerfully raw spectacle. There are many songs that will have you banging your heads and have your body pumping to the rhythm of the guitar with songs like ‘Totally Fucked’ and ‘The Bitch of Living’. Iwan Rheon as Moritz is excellent as a tortured soul; his smooth yet rough rock voice, leg stamping and jumps all contribute to an electrifying performance (that stems from his electrified spiky hairdo!).
Christine Jones’ set design places us within a school gymnasium with pictures on the back brick wall and a raised platform is the space in which the characters’ stories unfold. Surrounding the platform are seats for audience members among which the actors disperse, rest and even sing. The lighting by Kevin Adams is excellent with neon strips and coloured bulbs glowing over the audience. The on-stage band resides at the back kindling a potential energy, drawing the audience in and propelling the actors and the story from their launch pad into the hearts and minds of the audience.
With emotional, heartfelt and enormously energetic performances, Spring Awakening indeed deserves the great amount of praise it has received. With an excellent young cast, head banging tunes, and teenage frustrations and passions displayed through song and dance, this musical has great resonance that targets the heart of our society today. It encapsulates brilliantly those riotous anarchic feelings that we as youths have towards oppressive figures of authority; if you are or have ever been a teenager, then this show is for you.