Tag Archives: Spring Awakening

GMTG presents: Spring Awakening @The Guild of Students


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.

Hayley Yates

GMTG presents: Spring Awakening

After almost a year in the making, University of Birmingham’s musical theatre society, GMTG, are unveiling their take on the eight times Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening on 26th November. Fans should be aware that Broadway’s rock and roll musical has been transformed into a piece of expressionistic physical theatre, complete with surrealist costumes, live-art and video projections. I talked to artistic director Jake Dorrell to discover what inspired this creative process.


The musical is based on Frank Wedekind’s original 1891 play, which explores the awakening of sexuality and identity in a group of confused young teenagers and criticises the sexually-oppressive culture of 19th century Germany. Due to its controversial subject matter, including rape, child abuse, homosexuality, suicide, and abortion, the play was often censored or banned outright. Jake described how he completely fell in love with the story but found the successful 2006 Broadway version, which starred Glee’s Lea Michele, insulting, stating that ‘it completely sexualises it’ and that ‘it’s funny when it shouldn’t be funny. I’ve forbidden the cast from watching it on YouTube!’

His interpretation of the musical focuses on the strange surreal world of adolescence that the teenagers are entering and projects that world onto the stage. Thus, you are ‘not supposed to leave thinking you’ve seen a play- it’s like stepping into a moving art installation.’ Jake has drawn on German expressionism, in which the set looms around the spectator, and is using two enormous projections to surround the audience and help them to see from a child’s perspective.

‘This summer I nearly ran away with the circus’ Jake suddenly declared, and after a hilarious anecdote he revealed that the show’s costumes are heavily influenced by the circus and clown make up: ‘Lucien Freud meets Cirque du Soleil!’ All of the costumes are hand-made and hand-painted by Maysie Chandler and everything has been sourced individually. Jake described how he found himself struggling home from the rag market carrying hula hoops, wadding and vintage clothes.

Indeed, the effort put into the production by cast and crew is incredible. Jake described the initial audition process as ‘torturous’; it took five days and included four-hour-long physical theatre workshops. In stamina classes, the cast are pushed to their limits: ‘they leave dripping with sweat and can’t walk for days,’ Jake says half-jokingly and pauses before adding with a laugh ‘I’m probably a bit of a nightmare to work with!’

spring awakening

The production also draws on the personal experiences of gay, bisexual and pansexual students and the LBGTQ society played a part in talking to the cast about ‘what it’s like to be different’. Jake wanted to ensure that all issues in the play were thoroughly explored and that the finished piece was ‘meaningful’. Local transgender arts, teenage suicide, and depression charities have been invited to collect donations after the show- highlighting the reality of the play’s issues to the audience. As summed up by Jake, GMTG’s production is a ‘social message conveyed artistically’.

Overall, Jake tells viewers not to expect a cheesy, jazz-hands musical. Nor is it a family show, given its explicit sexual content. He advised people coming to see it to be ‘be incredibly open-minded’ and to ‘expect the unexpected’ before announcing ‘we’re doing things that have never, ever been done before. I’m excited!’

Performances run from 26-30th November

Tickets are available now at http://www.guildtickets.co.uk/GMTG

£4 GMTG Members
£5 Concessions
£8 Others

Production Team:
Directer – Jake Dorrell
Musical Director – Ollie Hance
Producers – Ricky Carey and Ciara Cohen-Ennis
Choreographer – William Costello
Costume – Maysie Chandler
Stage Managers – Rachel Fulham, Katherine Grayson, Jacob Standbridge and Rebecca Maynard

By Ellicia Pendle