Friday, 17 February 2017

Theatre review: Spring Awakening

DISCLAIMER: Drama school productions are classed as amateur performances; but as ever, I try to treat them the same as I would professional ones as that's what the cast will be aiming to do next.

It's been a while since I went to one of LAMDA's public performances, and I've not seen them do a musical before, but Vanessa wouldn't have forgiven me if we'd missed a chance to see one of her absolute favourites, Spring Awakening. Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik's Broadway musical takes Frank Wedekind's famously banned 19th century play and plays it pretty well straight in the spoken-word scenes, adding deliberately anachronistic songs revealing what the kids are really thinking. Melchior (Ross Kugman tonight - two casts alternate between performances) is the first of his classmates to find out about sex, and only because he reads about it in a book. Apart from those Melchior informs himself, the others remain completely unaware as their parents refuse to discuss it. In the case of his girlfriend Wendla (India Shaw-Smith,) her mother's painfully coy description of the facts of life leads to tragedy. Other kids suffering include the resident loser Moritz (Soroosh Lavasani,) whose parents will disown him if he fails, which his teachers are determined he will.

Although this is performed at a slightly bigger larger venue than their on-campus studio - the nearby POSK Polish cultural centre - this is a chamber musical arrangement with only four musicians, which does restrict somewhat how grungy and unrestrained the music can feel. Overall the girls impress more than the boys: The latter feel like the formal school attitude carries over to the songs that should be a bit more rough around the edges. The standouts vocally are Shaw-Smith and Rhianna McGreevy as Ilse, and the female cast members in general feel like they're performing with a bit more abandon.

Ria Parry's production is simple but with some nice touches, particularly the end of Act I in which the show's conflict of religion and sexuality plays out with the company worshipping at a kind of altar that Melchior and Wendla are sexing on. I still really enjoy the show's music, and having only recently watched the BBC's Sound of Musicals series, it stands out how unusual it is for a show's biggest number ("Totally Fucked") to just show up halfway through the second act. And given that this comes from the 1891 source material, it's always striking that in the middle of the building melodrama, the budding gay love story between Ernst (Jack Gillett) and Hanschen (Daniel Orpwood) is the moment of positivity that breaks the tension.

Spring Awakening by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, based on the play by Frank Wedekind, is booking until the 22nd of February at POSK.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.

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