Sunday, 29 March 2009

Spring Awakening - Novello Theatre, London

Spring Awakening
Based on the play by Frank Wedekind
Book & Lyrics: Steven Sater
Music: Duncan Sheik
Director: Michael Mayer
Chroeography: Bill T Jones
Reviewer: Honour Bayes

There’s definitely something in the air at the Novello Theatre since the arrival of Spring Awakening, the pop/punk/thrash musical which has been taking the Lyric Hammersmith by storm. Crackling with edgy sex appeal and blistering new music this really is the indie rock star of the current West End scene, slicing through the old establishment with a microphone in one hand and a 10 page essay on human reproduction in the other.

Spring Awakening is based on the groundbreaking and controversial 19th century German play by Frank Wedekind of the same name, which criticised the sexually-oppressive culture and ripe parental repression of the time and presents a vivid dramatisation of the erotic fantasies that this oppression inevitably bred. The musical has stayed as true as it can to this exploration of passionate teenage lusts, wounds and wants whilst also giving it a squarely postmodern identity; the rock/pop score speaking loud and clear to the ever growing 'Skins' generation of uber cool teens.

By encasing this tragic story of teen suicide, abortion and sexual abuse in an alt-rock environment it is true that it has lost some of the darkness that is so all encompassing in Wedekind’s original, but what it brings to the text is a modern means of self expression which perfectly captures today’s frustrated youth. Who hasn’t wanted to grab a microphone and punch out some angsty punk-rock after an argument with their parents, partner or boss? Indeed, although pop music speaks most obviously to teenagers, its well worn and much used archetypes strike chords in us all.

And so although this is clearly by its very nature an adolescent musical, it is also an incredibly good one, whipping up old and young alike in it’s youthful enthusiasm. Steven Sater’s book and lyrics and Duncan Sheik’s music come together perfectly with pumping group rock numbers, tender ballads and transporting harmonies, making this one of the best new scores - or indeed old - around.

Christine Jones' set and Susan Hilferty's costume design lend the whole evening a Clockwork Orange meets Vivian Westwood edge and the constantly present wireless mics bring a pleasantly unusual distancing effect that has parallels with one of Wedekind's contemporaries, Bertolt Brecht.

The young cast are universally outstanding, each bringing a unique brilliance to their characters and working together with a sense of commitment and understanding of ensemble which belays their age and inexperience. Punchy and dynamic they convey both pleasure and pain with acute realism. Aneurin Barnard and Charlotte Wakefield as the tragic lovers are particularly mesmerising.

Sometimes it is hard to hear the lyrics, and Moritz's journey, which leads him to suicide, is not mapped out as clearly as it could be. But in the face of a force-of-nature, such as this production is, it is hard to remember these slight moments of failure. Spring Awakening is the best musical to have come out of this postmodern culture so far; it will raise you up and isn't afraid to knock you down and even if it falls into the archetypes of its predecessors, it never loses its integrity.

Photos: Helen Maybanks
Spring Awakening runs at the Novello Theatre for more information click here
frontpage hit counter