Theatre Review: Spring Awakening, Hope Mill, Manchester
“I blame my mother for my poor sex life. All she told me was the man goes on top, the woman goes on the bottom. I bought bunk beds.” – Joan Rivers
Although it’s 2018, sex still causes a stir. It’s no surprise then that Frank Wedekind’s play Spring Awakening caused such controversy back in 1891. The piece includes a grand slam of hot button issues such as child abuse, suicide, back street abortion, the perils of puberty…and that’s for just for starters.
Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik created and premiered their musical version of the play in 2006 and now Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Productions present a strong, powerful production. The result is another feather in their already plumage-laden cap.
Hormones have made hypocrites of the elders. They are too ashamed to talk about sex and, as a result, shirk their responsibility to educate their offspring with devastating results. The exhuberant cast portray the younger generation, ignorant about their urges, with energy, power and some stunningly good vocals.
The songs are a mixture of rock belters or haunting ballads and are performed strikingly well by a band led by musical director Gareth Bretherton. The simple but quirky set has some interesting touches and the punchy choreography helps pull everything together, giving the bigger numbers in particular some real clout. The punky anthem Totally Fucked and beautiful The Word Of Your Body are special highlights.
There’s no weak link on stage, either. In an impressive, confident ensemble, Darragh Cowley is a dominant force as the rebellious Melchior, following his instincts whatever the cost. Adam Dawson stalks around as cocksure Hanschen, able to portray his intent with just a side glance. You can almost see the hormones flying off Jabez Sykes showing just the right mix of vulnerability and self-pity as the doomed Moritz, and Nikita Johal gives backbone and innocence to the tragic Wendla. Gillian Kirkpatrick and Neil Stewart play all of the older characters and it is to their credit that, despite minimal costume changes, you’re never confused which parent or teacher they are at any given time.
The story itself (horny, oppressed teenagers discovering their sexuality) is actually quite slight but, at just 45 minutes each half, this spirited show never outstays its welcome. Luke Sheppard has directed an all-killer-no-filler production that quite rightly finished with the audience on its feet.
Spring Awakening is on until May 3, 2018. For more details, click here.
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Supported by funding from @HeritageFundUK, Betty’s Back! will explore James’s life and works in the context of the 1920s, when the portrait was painted, and will also reveal artwork by Betty Durden Green for the first time.