Think about having to grow up in late-nineteenth-century Germany, while coming to terms with growing up, becoming an adult and having to deal with the stress and problems that string themselves along with this.
Spring Awakening is a pop-rock musical highlighting the themes that sometimes aren’t spoken or sung about in musicals – coming out, coming to terms with your body, teenage pregnancy, teenage suicide and abuse. Every character in this show has their own problems and storylines, and they mix in between the characters simultaneously.
The themes of shame and fear of failure resonate strongly and are scarily poignant as gritty and emotive scenes playout beside rock numbers, expressing what is going on in the teenagers’ head, but aren’t able to speak out about.
After multiple workshops, concerts and rewrites since the late 1990s, Spring Awakening opened on Broadway in 2006. This revised production tackles the issues in a slightly different way, and the story is enhanced by advances in technology and adds depth to the story.
The music itself can be quite separate from the storyline, as it’s a complete contrast in style and era – but Luke Sheppard’s direction is just stunning, and the transition into song is seamless. The only contradicting number is Totally Fucked where the whole stage gets turned into a rock concert for four minutes, with an electric guitar and lots of jumping.
Nikita Johal captures perfectly the naive innocence of Wendla; the changes she goes through are dramatic and desperately sad. From a giddy and gleefully young girl, unaware of how her body works as she grows into adulthood to a woman shattered by desperation and a terrible end.
Darragh Cowley makes for a strong and altogether convincing Melchior, reliable and sure of himself as an atheist in a world of strict religion. As Welda captures his heart entirely, Melchior’s steely attitude changes in the presence of her – their duets together are perfection and offer a beacon of hope in the midst of the desperate scenes to follow.
Jabez Sykes tackles the troubled Moritz effortlessly, while Seyi Omooba grips the audience with her gritty, emotive and soulful performance of Martha in The Dark I Know Well.
While there are many sad moments in this show, the character that brings some comedy and joy is Otto, performed wonderfully by Tim Mahendran. Christian Tyler-Wood has quite a lot to do in this production – not only is he acting a hormonal Georg, but he also plays the piano, and electric guitar live on stage, showcasing his skills as an actor and a musician.
Teleri Hughes’ portrayal of Ilse is sensitive and believable. With only short moments in the show, Hughes’ performance of The Song of Purple Summer allows the audience to see her as more than just another character and gives a new empathy and understanding of the impossible situation she found herself in and why she had to leave home.
After speaking to Adam Dawson (Hanschen) and Luke Latchman (Ernst) about their character’s relationship and coming to terms with being gay in that era, they mentioned their scene together in Act II. Previously, audiences found the scene quite funny – but are they laughing because it’s a funny scene or are they laughing because it’s two boys kissing? With developments of gay marriage and equality since the show opening in 2006, the charming scene between the two is real, emotive and gives the feeling of freedom.
As with all smaller productions, the quality shines through, and studio productions can often feel a little pinched compared to their more substantial scale equivalents. However, there is no such worry here – in fact, the space provides an intimacy with the audience that a larger theatre would lose. The set (designed by Gabriella Slade) is simple but quickly changeable for the multiple locations, and the walls are decorated with butterflies. The choreography by Tom Jackson Greaves is modern, slick and mesmerising – the constant use of choreography that hints at the movement and metamorphosis of a butterfly keeps the idea of the characters changing and developing into adulthood.
While there are scenes to warm your heart, there are those that will also leave you choked up and blinking back the tears.
Spring Awakening is running at the Hope Mill Theatre until 3rd May, and tickets and information can be found here.