A beautiful production centring on some universal, if somewhat uncomfortable topics — not to be missed
*** WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD ***
Nothing is more universal than teenage angst. Everyone goes through a stage of their life where everything annoys you, you constantly feel misunderstood, and, above all, you have a burning desire for, and to understand, sex.
This is something that Spring Awakening, the multi-Tony-award winning musical set in 19th century Germany, crudely depicts. In the past, the play it was based on by Frank Wedekind was censored for enlightening teenage sexuality, as well as for touching upon a plethora of other taboo subjects: rape, homosexuality, abortion, and suicide.
The newest revival of its musical form, at the Hope Mill Theatre, continues the aim of pushing people’s boundaries and confront them with themes that are in equal parts distressing and relatable, with the actors (some making their professional debut) practically trembling with desire and, at points, rage.
Darragh Cowley’s performance was particularly impressive. Playing the protagonist Melchior, a straight A student who tires of the bureaucracy of school, and, well, life, he brilliantly captures all the frustration that comes with discovering one’s repressed desires. He begins experimenting with violent sexual acts with seemingly gentle and innocent Wendla (Nikita Johal), but for a long time battles with himself, trying to decide whether what they are doing is right.
In the end, he chooses to break the shackles of the repressive society he lives in, and completely gives himself over to her. Unfortunately, due to persisting views of his parents, Wendla’s mother and other adults throughout the show, this only leads to tragedy, for Wendla and others.
None more so than for Moritz, played fantastically by Jabez Sykes. He is even more confused about his sexual desires, turning to Melchior for advice about persistent raunchy dreams. Despite Melchior’s explicit lessons in sexuality, his confusion persists. This is coupled with a terrible anxiety that he is failing at school (something I think every one of has felt at some point in our lives), and in the end the constant pressure and confusion proves too much for him and he takes his own life. Sykes’ portrayal of Mortiz’s downward spiral is truly impressive; he almost seems the most sure of himself and determined when he is full of rage and ready to die — a somewhat terrifying concept.
All the younger characters become the chorus at different stages of the play. The thrust style stage meant that, as an audience member, you felt as though you were part of the classroom full of students.
However, at times, the flipping between character and chorus doesn’t really pay off. For example, at the start of the show, Martha (played by Seyi Omooba) professes having a crush on Moritz. Yet, at his funeral, she becomes part of the chorus, and when laying flowers on his grave, doesn’t show any more sadness than the rest of the characters. Surely she would have been heartbroken?
Similarly, the funeral took place just after Mortiz’s chilling duet with Ilse (Teleri Hughes), during which she brandished wildflowers that paralleled the gun Moritz held behind his back. However, again, at his funeral, her distinguishing beanie was removed and she laid the same flowers as everyone else on his grave. Here, I felt if she had laid down the wildflowers she had during ‘Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind’, it would have been far more powerful.
Overall though, the re-adaptation of this modern classic I thought was extremely well done. The transitions were slick, the set design was beautiful, and although it was set in a time and place I have no connection to, the underlying themes of the show are something that resonated strongly without. If you have the opportunity, you must see this show.
Spring Awakening is running at the Hope Mill Theatre until the 3rd May 2018. Information and tickets can be found here.