If you thought my review of the University of Manchester Musical Theatre Society’s showcase was overly glowing, prepare yourselves for this one… This show was absolutely mesmerising from start to finish.
Spring Awakening tells the story of a group of teenagers discovering both the joys and hardships of life. It delves deeply into complicated, often unspoken issues, including abortion, abuse, rape, and suicide. I’ve often felt that the original 2006 cast recording fails to capture the true essence of this magnificent show. The energetic moments fall flat and the grief-stricken ones lack power. Let’s just say neither was an issue in this performance.
Infectious energy was poured through the room by upbeat songs like ‘All That’s Known’ and ‘The Bitch of Living’. The fact that every male performer managed to memorise a whole song in Latin and execute it flawlessly is deserving of admiration. Josh Stainer (Ernst), Robin Collins (Otto), Kitty Sharland (Anna), and Ella Kendrick (Thea) all showed musical expertise in their use of harmony during the group numbers. They also often added needed comical relief to the show as well as pulling their weight during the tragic moments.
Hannah McCoy’s portrayal of Wendla was skilful. She utilised a beautifully soft, breathy tone of voice to emphasise the important innocence to her character. Ilse (Francesca Wolfin) and Martha (Sophie Thomas) are both heavy roles and their song ‘The Dark I Know Well’ can be difficult to get right. Nevertheless, the mixture of resignation and rebellion they illustrated combined with their hypnotic voices created one of the show’s best songs.
Charlie Steggall (Hanschen) and Daniel Garvin (Georg) showed extreme dedication to their roles during My Junk. They portrayed a sexual exploration which ellicited tumultuous laughter from the audience. Pretending to masturbate throughout an entire song requires a bravery and lack of self-consciousness that I would love to possess. Garvin hitting his top notes in a gorgeous falsetto was also very impressive.
Megan Handy and Noah Wessel had the difficult role of Adult Woman and Adult Man respectively. They were both fantastic in differentiating between their many characters, from authoritarian school teachers, to concerned parents, a sexy piano teacher and a backstreet abortion ‘doctor’. Each character was distinct in delivery and it seemed as though they both switched every two minutes!
However, Moritz (Xavier Moras Spencer) and Melchior (Michael Bryceson) stood out most to me. They were able to show such intricate expression in both speech and, impressively, throughout their songs. All the performers took turns placing flowers on the grave of Moritz during the song ‘Left Behind’. Bryceson’s grief-painted face was incredibly realistic. I felt the urge to get out of my seat and give him a hug. Fortunately, I restrained my instincts and avoided becoming the talk of the night! The decision to leave the chair Moritz used to take his life as well as the flowers his close ones left on stage was excellent. It posed as a reminder of what the characters had already lost, making the suffering that followed even more compelling.
Now it’s not often I cry during musicals. I’m usually too busy analysing the acting, whether the harmonies sound right and other such technicalities. The only exception to this is the musical Falsettos, which gets me every time without fail. I certainly wasn’t expecting this show to hit me as hard as it did. From the moment before Moritz’s suicide onwards, I was a total wreck and for good reason… The cast were on a professional level in their masterful portrayal of heartbreak and misery.
The violence throughout the show was also incredibly well rehearsed, leading to slaps, punches and beatings looking clean and realistic, adding the shock factor. Badly rehearsed violence can often end up looking slapstick, which was far from the case here.
The technical team and the amazing pit band must be hugely praised. There was a slight issue with two of the stage lights during the first half, which caused a distraction from some of the more tender moments. However, this was rectified professionally during the interval. The band was always right on the money, adding a finesse which I believe can only be achieved through live music during a performance.
Milena Gabrysiak has done a wonderful job choreographing the dances. The expressionism of the movement added perfectly to the tone of the show, never feeling forced. Likewise, Intimacy Coordinator, Eve Wenham’s input into the show has created an unmistakable connection between the performers, specifically Bryceson and McCoy as well as Josh Stainer and Charlie Steggall.
The traverse staging created an intimate feel which worked well for this show. I did feel that the small setting restricted the performers a tad. A larger setting would have allowed for a set that could have brought to life the location more.
The cast and creative team have succeeded in bringing to life this tender, yet intense, coming-of-age story with astounding musical skill and maturity. I can see each member of this cast having a long and illustrious career in performing.
Spring Awakening is playing in the Theatre Lounge until December 3.