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Spring Awakening Review: “Touching, awkward and outrageous”

Updated: Dec 4, 2021

Written by Rebecca Harrison

Last night, LUU Music Theatre society performed the musical Spring Awakening at the Pyramid Theatre. First performed on Broadway in 2006 and set in Germany in the 1890s, Spring Awakening is a timeless swansong of a disillusioned youth. The adolescent characters’ sexual awakenings are complicated by the shame imposed on them by the institutions around them - their families, their religion and their schools. Engaging fully and maturely with the musical’s difficult themes, this production, featuring music from a live band, is touching, awkward and at times outrageous.

Eva Lafontan’s movement direction recalls that of the original Broadway production. The ensemble wander their hands over themselves in a boxy but fluid refrain. Their hands are one part robotic and one part ethereal, drawing something from the air around them and to their arms, thighs, chests. The direction effectively conveys the conflict the characters face: the desire to explore their own bodies and the self-conscious guilt that curtails their sensual curiosity.

All photos in this article by Abby Swain

The perfect reaction to the constraint the characters feel is the soundtrack’s outbursts of alternative rock. The first of these is the song, ‘The Bitch of Living’. Reacting to the totalitarian environment of the Victorian classroom, Mortiz (Rowan Macpherson) whips out a microphone from the inside of his blazer. And so begins the choreographed chaos of head-banging, floor-humping and foot-stomping.

Director, Kitty Richardson, makes good use of the stage as a vehicle for the cast’s movement: in ensemble pieces, each corner receives a serenade by a cast member; in intimate moments, the characters move towards corners and often also low to the ground; kneeling, sitting and being fully childlike in their vulnerability; and in moments of defiance and self-affirmation they are central and upright–often atop stage blocks for emphasis.

There are also great moments contrived by the Adult Men (Matthew Morton) and Women (Anya McQueen). Particularly funny was the teacher/headmaster dynamic. McQueen stomps around the stage with pompous authority as she reiterates the words of her subordinate, Morton. The pair performs a tight spin around each other, heads leaning in and chuckling haughtily together before exiting.

For a drama, the play is funny. Especially during the scene where Georg’s (Daniel Newman) piano lesson coincides with Hanschen’s (Alex Lewis’) masturbation vignette: boy, interrupted. Whilst Hanschen wards off his mother’s calls to come down for dinner, Georg ogles his piano teacher, his stopping and starting on the instrument interrupting the simultaneous action of Hanschen wanking. Yet, there were definitely more opportunities to squeeze out laughs than were utilised. The actors could have gone further with their physicality. The musical is about discovery, angst, and revolution; and it seems a shame to not push it to the limits.

That said, the voices of the cast are very strong - especially Moritz’s (Macpherson) pained soprano and Georg’s (Daniel Newman) unconstrained falsetto. Another mention has to go to Macpherson’s impeccably permed mullet. Shaking with the characters’ nervous, verging-on-unhinged energy and paired with the ACDC-esque costumes, it somehow fits perfectly with the alt rock/Victorian Germany vibe.

The stand-out ensemble piece is the climactic song, ‘Totally Fucked’. In the wake of Moritz’ suicide, his schoolmasters interrogate his best friend, Melghior (Harry Toye). Realising his teachers are going to expel him under the pretense of “collateral damage” to cover the school’s back, Melghior tips over the edge. The song, lead by Toye, is about disillusionment. No matter how hard these characters try, they are unable to meet the requirements of the institutions around them. Every natural feeling is pushing them away from how they are told to behave–from what they are told is right. The answer, then, to these Spring lambs, is that there must be something fundamentally wrong with the world. Otherwise, it must be them and what is natural that is wrong, which can’t be the case.

The timed strobe lighting, almost moshing choreography and raw energy in this scene is electrifying. It is not just a song, but a spectacle. It captures the timeless angst that generation after generation of young people feel; and the betrayal they feel from the generations that came before them; the excuses they make–‘Blah, blah, blah’. After this shot of a scene, it did make me wonder why more of that drama and production value was not used more throughout the show. It seemed a shame to save those effects for just one scene, spectacular as it was.

But the angst was present throughout - embodied in force by Melghior. Acted smartly as pensive and slightly precocious, Toye constantly glances upwards and away, towards a distant future. He feels the kind of angst that fuels revolution and feeds a desire to change the world. This makes it especially heartbreaking when he is curled over on his knees, serenaded by the sweet-voiced ghosts of his love, Wendla (Tallulah Roberts), and his best friend, Moritz.

The show runs for another two nights in the Pyramid Theatre. Tickets here.

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