Spring Awakening

Tue 2nd – Sat 6th February 2016

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 22:35 on 2nd Feb 2016

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Explaining the central idea of Spring Awakening doesn't make it sound like a fun, terrifying emotional rollercoaster of a night out (kids in ultra-conservative 19th century German discover each other and sex and atheism and how to be proper people) but that's exactly what it is. With a plot and a script which is cleverer and packs more of an emotional punch than the average play, great, toe-tapping musical numbers and a constant mixture of raucous-laughter-inducing jokes and moments of terrible tragedy, Spring Awakening literally made the audience laugh and cry and fight the urge to sing along.

Great musicals need great music, and a few minor technical issues aside, this production more than lived up to this. The band, under musical director James Bartlett were fantastic, and together with the cast's confident and expressive singing, they played their way through a catchy and moving score. The different numbers shifted between guitar-accompanied angsty-teen pieces, and heart-wrenching ballads. I especially enjoyed 'Totally Fucked', a particularly grumpy ensemble number in the second act. I'll definitely be downloading the soundtrack.

The action took place in a multi-levelled set, a balcony with a staircase allowing action on two levels. This made the stage space versatile enough to slip seamlessly between the constantly varying settings, and the possibility of having more than one set of characters onstage at one time was well-utilised. The yellow-toned light bulbs hanging from the ceiling were beautiful too, sometimes the warm lights of a family home, sometimes the utilitarian lighting of a schoolroom, sometimes stars in a night sky.

The cast of Spring Awakening delivered a fantastic performance which had to deal with just about every potentially unfunny aspect of that disgusting thing - serious adult life. Johanna Clarke in particular stood out as romantic lead Wendla, bringing to life a complex and intriguing character. Ben Cisneros was loud and defiant as her love interest and the local rebel Melchior. Megan Gilbert and Robin Franklin were both brilliant, playing between them all the adults of the production. They were collectively called upon display the largest ranges of the piece, portraying some of the most comical characters, but also some of the most tragic, and even sinister. And finally, a large number of points must be awarded to James Daly for... well... you'll know it when you see it.

Spring Awakening doesn't shy away from dealing with all of the sensitive, problematic, private, tragic aspects of life. It is sensitive, thought-provoking and sophisticated, but at the same time riotously funny, warm-hearted, and often great fun. Take along the friend who you have those awkward three-in-the-morning unfiltered conversations with, and a discreet packet of tissues or a handkerchief. You won't regret it.

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Victoria Campion

at 23:50 on 2nd Feb 2016

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Past Fresher’s Week, it’s easy to forget the hazy, WKD-scented days of secondary school and (whisper it) puberty. Luckily, Spring Awakening is here to forcibly recall those not-so halcyon days to your mind, infusing the ADC with the pungent smell of 1890s teen spirit (apologies Kurt). Playing to a packed audience, this unique production ricochets across vibrant vignettes, superimposing supreme angst onto the staid, repressive rhythms of nineteenth-century German life. Whilst some segues in tone, mood and music were jarring, the play’s central ethos hung together in a wild patchwork of emotions echoing the chaotic but undeniably vivid teenage experience.

The music and setting initially seemed the oddest of couples, but by the end of the first act the marriage of these two elements had my blessing. Rock music, a genre whose genesis and popularity crucially lie with the youth, is here capable of expressing extremes of emotion, from deepest anguish to highest ecstasy. The incongruence of this unapologetically modern music with such staid settings as the Classics schoolroom illustrated the constant undercurrent of rebellion and repressed vitality of the teens, and reflected the unease with which libertarian youths such as Melchior (Ben Cisneros) were crushed by dominant social mores.

These anthems of independence were generally performed well, despite a few technical problems, and were realized best in the ensemble pieces. Particular musical highlights include early number ‘The Bitch of Living’, in which chanted Latin slowly morphs into the song’s texture, ‘Totally Fucked’ and ‘I Believe’, the latter a bittersweet exultation of discovering intimacy, which delicately skirted the saccharine over-sentimentality.

The pared-down set and simple costume design worked in harmony with the stark oppression of the youths’ world, to which the kaleidoscopically lit, energetically performed and explosively choreographed songs provided a fine foil. The quality of acting was generally high, despite some inevitable accent lapses – the odd R.P. mole popping against an otherwise smooth metaphorical American lawn. Both Joanna Clarke (Wendla) and Ben Cisneros (Melchior) deserve high praise for not only palpable sexual chemistry but also a skilful representation of the whole gamut of extreme emotions which their characters must undergo in the process of their joint ‘Awakening’. Additionally, special mention must go to Robin Franklin (the Adult Men) who displayed remarkable versatility portraying pastor, pantomime villain, pater and many more.

The play’s main strength lies in its masterful echo of the dizzyingly intense emotional range experienced during the transition to adulthood. For Moritz (Joe Beighton) and his counterparts, trifles such as sexual frustration and failing Latin gain tragically great importance, a roulette of sentiment which is echoed both thematically and structurally. This can become overwhelming at times, though arguably the juxtaposition of genuinely comic and poignant moments diluted neither (cf. Hanschen (James Daly) and Ernst’s (Benedict Welch) tentative and amusing steps towards romance followed by the grave revelation of Wendla’s pregnancy).

Despite a few minor quibbles, Spring Awakening skilfully synthesizes a plethora of chaotic elements (not just musical genre and setting, but the very emotional states it explores), in a lyrical and satisfying exploration of teenage awakening.

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