Spring awakens and returns in full bloom with an impressive revival in Manchester’s most creative theatre. Based on Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1891 German play of the same name, Spring Awakening the musical is a story of hormones, puberty, sexuality and teenage angst. It gathered cult status upon its premiere on Broadway for breaking the conforms on contemporary musical theatre: at each climax point throughout the story, the young schoolroom characters in Protestant Germany break from period dialogue into modern folk-rock songs; which were originally staged discordantly as concert pieces with instruments and handheld microphones.
What makes this incarnation work so much better is its commitment to the story. Luke Sheppard’s direction is fast-paced and slick, navigating the plot and characters through their heartaches before passing the baton seamlessly to Tom Jackson Greaves, who excels as Choreographer on this show with his knack for combining a show-specific movement vocabulary and full-throttle high energy dance sequences, turning potentially bland pop-rock songs into narrative journeys.
Set Designer Gabriella Slade’s stark yet somehow beautifully distressed classroom feels as it if has grown right out of the walls of the theatre, and the furniture is manoeuvred expertly in the hands of Sheppard; accentuated by the brilliant work and surprise ingenuity of Lightning Designer Nic Farman. This is a piece of theatre with extremely high production values, and and even higher standard of creative detail from its designers.
The power couple of the Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment have a proud history of showcasing emerging talent of in the form of fresh students and undiscovered stars, and this is the perfect formula for a show about youthful discovery. Leading the energetic cast as Melchior Gabor is Darragh Cowley, a name sure to be appearing more in the future. He ably sets the bar for the rest to aspire to, with his confident yet contained take on the seething adolescent. The whole batch of graduates cause a real riot, assured and unashamed, watched over by their adult supervision; most notably, Gillian Kirkpatrick, in an array of grown up roles and finding the warmth and humour is each.
This production is pretty, witty and packed with vigour from the start; and more than deserves to follow its Hope Mill predecessors with a transfer to London. This is the Spring Awakening you should want to see.
Reviewed by Tate James
Photo: Scott Rylander