Spring Awakening
Keble O’Reilly
Weds – Sat 7:30pm
Tickets: £6.50 – £8

5 stars

In Spring Awakening, even the production team are leading role material. The team that brought us the five-star Rent last year are set to sell out their new show every night.

The focus of this production has been the singing. These guys have been drilled to sing the score perfectly – how I’d love to be a fly on the wall of one of MD Nick Pritchard’s rehearsals. Alice Pearse (Wendla) in particular is pitch perfect, so good she sounds computer-edited. The show is at its strongest when everyone is singing together, the group dynamic finely honed to allow each singer to play to their strengths. Matthew Thomas’s ensemble solos inject personality, while Emily Gill and Brian Earp’s delicious voices keep the sound quality high.
“It’s a rock musical, but that doesn’t have to mean the songs aren’t part of the story,” says director James Caroll.

Characterisation is strong but simple and the less complex roles are the strongest. Gillian Purcell is fabulous as the adult female character, her understated German accent colouring without intruding on her portrayal of the various characters. Fen Greatly approaches Handschen totally, never allowing his character to slip and even dying his hair blonde. The choreography by Emily Gill and Kate Pooler has all the style of the West End production, if not all the substance, and is delivered with high energy to great effect.

The show itself is a bit of a phenomenon. It’s been swamped with awards. The original cast are big stars – Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele are now Rachelle and Jesse from Glee. The amateur rights for Spring Awakening have only just been released, so director James Caroll and his team are challenged with direct comparison to these professional productions. They’re setting themselves up to compete with the best. Luckily, these guys are the best the Oxford musicals scene has to offer. If you haven’t seen this landmark musical, this is the best introduction you’re going to get outside of the professional cast.

James T Harding

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