Spring Awakening

Date 7th May 2019
Society University of Manchester Musical Theatre Society
Venue Council Chambers
Type of Production Musical
Director Grace Johnstone
Musical Director Zoe Kundu
Choreographer Hannah Blau
Producer Sophie Procter

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

Adapted from Frank Wedekind’s 1891 expressionist play which was banned due to its controversial subject matter - described as “one of the most loathsome and depraved plays I have ever read” by an examiner in the Lord Chamberlain’s office – but was later frequently reproduced in censored formats. The musical adaptation opened off-Broadway in 2006 and was soon moved onto Broadway, the production received accolades winning eight Tony Awards including ‘Best Musical’, four Olivier Awards as well as a Grammy for the Broadway cast album. The book follows the eventful journey of a group of students, in Germany, in the late 19th century as they navigate the tricky business of adolescence, academic expectations, abortion, challenging authority, mental and physical abuse along with the teenage obsession with sex and sexuality.

Based on what I’d previously read and heard of this title I compiled a preconceived idea of what I was about to witness - a production that this could absolutely have been and no doubt so often is! Though, what I saw in the presentation of this enactment was a somewhat refreshingly timid account to what I was expecting which I found to be a breath of fresh air from the anticipated hitting us hard with obscenities and in-your-face antics. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude and would absolutely have taken a more risqué flavour on the chin for what it was, though what I experienced was a far more refined and sensitive characteristic to the image that had been previously painted in my head making me appreciate this production as pleasantly refreshing and mature but most importantly, the sensitive and tentative tactic didn’t fail to convey the power of the dramatic grit nor did it dilute the dominance of the fable which is so crucial to its telling.

Led by an all-female creative team – with Direction by Grace Johnstone (assisted by Oonagh Johnson), Musical Direction by Zoe Kundu, Choreography by Hannah Blau and Produced by Sophie Procter – this production takes a dark subject matter and sympathetically depicted it to tragic and compelling effect. A sterling job, a credit to the team of this project and indeed the entire society.  

Recent presentations in this venue have proved extremely problematic though this staging layout has to be one of the more pleasing and easy to regard from an audience perspective, the only drawback from being sat in the centre of a row for a narrow catwalk / avenue style performance space is how you can often feel as though you’re watching a tennis tournament, but – I’d much rather put up with this than what we’ve been experiencing from the attempt of a more traditional ‘end on’  concept which (as I’ve previously reported) just doesn’t work for the majority of the punters attending a show in this venue with its current state. There’s certainly high acclaim from me (and no doubt other UMMTS supporters) for addressing this issue and having shown some thought for the spectator’s satisfaction with improvements made to enable us to easily take in the presentation without missing so much of it as a result of poor sightlines. Thank you!

The music, which is an amalgamation of indie-rock with a modern musical theatre zest, was handled with impressive knack. The cast were certainly a credit to the musical director whose vocals gloriously blended with the beautifully controlled 9 piece orchestra.

Kate Gabriel depicted the susceptibility of Wendla but with a clever sense of knowing too. The Adult Woman fell into a trap presenting a character that was overly embellished it became artificial when a more understated delivery would have proffered a more pleasing and convincing result. Catriona Darroch gript my attention as Isle, I wished there were more for her to do as she offered a character that was riddled with intrigue. The Adult Man was excellently presented by an intimidating Tom Bass with a physical performance and visual expressions that communicated with equal effect as the libretto. Jack McCartney struck all the right chords as Moritz, his story/journey was the one I latched on to and George Haviland caught my attention when treating us to a charming falsetto harmony. It’s brilliant and exceptionally rare to report that there wasn’t especially any weak links in terms of performance delivery in this production which is an incredibly exciting trait in this game, this was a solid ensemble cast evidently led by a more than able production team who presented a sophisticated rendition of a musical that’s so frequently considered offensive.         

Following Rent, Spring Awakening was the next cult show to inspire, introduce and attract a young audience into the theatre paving the way for Even Hansen and Jamie New, long may such creations and the subsequent amateur renderings of them continue to keep musical theatre fresh and alive in our culture!