Spring Awakening Review
On Thursday 2nd December, I had the privilege of experiencing Music Theatre Society’s provocative portrayal of the angsty rock musical that is ‘Spring Awakening’. This was my first time watching the show and I truly could not have prepared myself for what was to come, despite the preceding trigger warnings. The musical, based on Frank Wedekind’s controversial play, tells the story of teenage anarchy, exploring themes such as abortion, sexual assault and suicide. The themes in this production were handled tastefully if perhaps, a little tentatively. Nonetheless, due to the effective use of movement and convincing performances, I left the theatre in awe. A brave proposal from director Kitty Richardson, but a proposal for which I am truly grateful.
Upon entering the Pyramid theatre, I felt immediately immersed in the setting for the play. Vines were attached to the overhead rigging whilst additional vines and flowers decorated the space’s perimeter. A live band, led by Zara Harris, occupied one corner of the theatre and with the space at almost full capacity, there was a sense of intimacy amongst the audience members. Performing in-the-round is no easy feat. The directors must also ensure that each side of the audience remains engaged throughout, considering sightlines at every juncture. Richardson and movement director Eva Lafontan wielded the space and ensemble to their advantage. For instance, in ‘Mama Who Bore Me’, the female characters wowed from all angles, served girlband realness and provided a profusion of much-needed serotonin. Equally, the male characters’ chaotic energy in ‘The Bitch of Living’ flooded the space entirely. The transitions between scenes were also smooth, guaranteeing no loss of the theatrical illusion.
Lafontan’s movement masterfully conveyed the burgeoning sexual desire of the characters. Mirroring was used throughout which produced a sense of mutual curiosity between the characters as they all tenderly traced their arms, legs and torsos. However, the characters do not touch each other during the first act which both increases the (sexual) tension and allows for some individual turmoil to be displayed. This subtlety may have detracted from the intensity of certain interactions such as the ‘beating’ scene, but I decided to take heed of Richardson’s advice in her director’s note and ‘contemplate with a wider mindset’, appreciating the delicate, visual symbolism. Pushing the movement further into the realms of realism may have evoked unwarranted laughter in sensitive moments.
Leading the cast were the fearless Melchior (Harry Toyé) and the delicate ingenue, Wendla (Tallulah Roberts). The two embodied their characters well, demonstrating chemistry and strong vocal ability throughout. Toyé, in particular, exhibited the impressive range of his acting skill when tasked to be both hero and aggressor within one act. However, the most notable performance must go to Rowan Macpherson in the role of Moritz for her impeccable facial and vocal expression, coupled with a contagious vitality. The vulnerability expressed in her final moments reduced me to tears. Moreover, the gender-blind casting choice ought to be commended for challenging our perception of gender performativity and representations of sexuality in theatre.
Although this musical is undoubtedly dark, there were moments of light amongst the shade. Comedy could be derived from the supporting characterisation. Alexander Lewis as Hanschen was perfectly perverted – the ‘climax’ of his performance aroused a ripple of nervous giggles across the audience. Similarly, Matthew Morton and Anya McQueen were comical chameleons, chortling in unison and multi-rolling with ease. At times, I lost track of which adult character they were embodying due to the limited costume changes. However, I would like to interpret any ambiguity as intentional, with the adult characters forming a collective, antagonistic presence against which the teenagers can rebel.
It seems every visual element of this production had symbolic purpose, including the set, props and costume. Accompanying the vines and flowers which may or may not symbolise life, death and/or the budding romance, were several stage blocks atop which characters would stand to exhibit their rebelliousness. Some of the props included a keyboard, used by Georg (Daniel Newman) as he lusted after his piano teacher and a noose which was carried by Moritz like a burden, foreshadowing his suicide. Costume choices such as having Wendla and Melchior wander the stage sock-footed further highlighted their youthful innocence. Each visual choice adds to the striking theatrical tableau. When significant lighting and sound effects were used, such as in ‘Totally Fucked’, the production value was notably elevated, but I would have liked to have seen more. Nevertheless, production manager Jay Sunley and producer Ben Nuttall should be credited for their evident technical expertise.
Through subtlety and minimalism, our attention was drawn solely to the actors. However, the cast were used primarily as vehicles to explore the themes of the play. The real star of the show was the direction itself. Richardson and Lafontan crafted a beautiful spectacle in which they should take pride. Overall, the production was a huge success and it truly showcased the amazing talent we have here in Leeds. If you missed ‘Spring Awakening’, make sure to follow LUU Music Theatre Society’s social media pages for information about upcoming shows, in which this talented cast and crew will likely shine once more!
(All image credits go to Abby Swain)