Combining a cathartic rock score with plotlines dealing with everything from sexual repression to suicide and incest, any director taking on Spring Awakening has a serious task on their hands.
However, Amelia Brown and her impressively talented cast (and crew) seem to be more than ready to take on the challenge, producing an intense interpretation of the show which stresses the modernity and relatability of the characters – despite the fact the musical is set in 19th century Germany.
Out Of the Blue veteran Jack Remmington stars as Melchior, a rebellious teenager struggling against the repressive atmosphere of the schoolroom, and unsurprisingly carries off the vocal score with naturalistic ease. It’s also worth pointing out that this is a defiantly “teenage” musical, with only two actors (Alice Moore and Josh Blunsden) portraying adult characters.
This teenage side is definitely the one which is brought out in the musical numbers – loud, frustrated and more than a little angsty. In “Totally Fucked”, the entire cast join in on stage, and, in total contrast to the controlled atmosphere of the acted scenes, go wild in dancing across the stage, yelling the chorus and ending the number by sticking their middle fingers up at the audience. Amelia and her team plan to take this further by using their staging and particularly lighting to separate the “song world” of emotional freedom and honesty with “real world” of adult control.
During the play itself, the entire cast remain on stage, adding to the intensity and intimacy of the show. In terms of staging, the team have continued to stress the difference between the two worlds of the musical: the constructed and confined schoolroom and the more natural world of the forest, where the love story between Melchior and Wendla begins to take place.
Certainly there’s a lot of darkness in this production, and it remains to be seen exactly how they chose to deal with some of the more difficult topics which come up. I’m also particularly excited to see Ellie Lowenthal (who recently played Ophelia in Hamlet) and Niall Docherty (Singin’ in the Rain) more fully in their roles, especially when backed by a full band rather than just piano and drums.
This isn’t a particularly lyrical musical, but it’s a visceral one, and the cast’s energy is palpable. It’s a smart choice for a student production, and taps well into the ideas of teenage turbulence and rebellion which are so central to the plot, while retaining serious bite as it tackles some extremely dark themes.
The O’Reilly isn’t going to know what’s hit it when Spring Awakening arrives in 6th week. Amelia, the cast and the rest of the team seem poised to carry off a lively and professional production. Even if you “don’t like musicals” (in which case, you need to re-examine your lifechoices regardless), give this one a go. Packed with hard-hitting rock music, emotional turbulence and a healthy dose of sexual repression, Spring Awakening promises to be one of the best shows of this term.
Catch Spring Awakening at the Keble O’Reilly from Wednesday to Saturday of 6th week.