On 29th November 2013, I went to see Jake Dorrell’s interpretation of Spring Awakening, set in oppressive 19th Century Germany. Dubbed one of the most ‘controversial’ plays of its time, the original play was banned in Germany for addressing the devastating consequences of exploring the ‘mysteries of your body’ in a society that denied its youth any insight into precisely that.
Having never really been exposed to the genre of a ‘serious’ musical, I went in with fairly naive impressions. I considered the likelihood of mild peril, perhaps even the possibility of a little trouble and strife, but I did not question the ending. Surely every musical has a happy ending…right? Wrong.
This was not a musical for the faint-hearted. The play centred on adolescent suicide, the consequences of premarital sex and homosexuality. All of these would have been taboo topics, therefore one can appreciate how daring Sater’s musical would have been at the time it was originally written.
The harrowing consequences of pubescent curiosity were extremely hard hitting, and personally I felt as though they were portrayed admirably, with each actor allowing the audience a brief yet consuming insight into their lives.
The performances were undoubtedly enhanced by the personal stories that had been offered up to cast members in rehearsals, who had the unique insights given to them by working closely with the LGBTQ society. This added another dimension to the performances, which came across as even more impressive when presented as a direct juxtaposition to the surrealism which consumed the performance.
When the musical began I felt as though I had been thrust into Tim Burton’s imagination.
The surrealist set design and costume were reminiscent of Berkoff’s The Trial, and complemented the cast perfectly in their mono-chromic attire and ghoul-like stage make-up. The quirky costume design, by Maysie Chandler, inspired visions of innocence through the younger characters and images of corrupted authority through the exaggerated shoulders of Headmaster Knochenbruch.
In saying this, it must be noted that the messages conveyed within the show maintained the focal point for the duration of the performance, which is an impressive feat when considered alongside two projection screens with elaborate videos of memories/eerie projections of the deceased, a live band performing backstage and a cast of twenty actors!
The only slight criticism I will (reluctantly) offer is that of the use of hand-held microphones. I fully appreciate that this aspect of the show is minimal (!) and was probably due to limitations of being at University and not having access to a variety of resources, however I feel as though it slightly stunted the transition from scene to song; and would have helped the musical’s fluidity.
All in all, the show was an impressive piece of theatre. It was evident that everyone involved had invested an awful lot of time and effort into making each performance immaculate, and it was fully appreciated by all audience members, me especially.