Spring Awakening, adolescent sex, dance and emotion
“Those you’ve known. And lost, still walk behind you. All alone. They linger till they find you. Without them. The world grows dark around you. “
Moritz Lyric from “Those You’ve Known”
Making a welcome return to London is Spring Awakening under the revised direction of the brilliant Rupert Goold with a whole new cast, set for fame, as were the original Broadway cast in 2006 which starred Jonathan Groff, and indeed the 2009 London cast with names like Aneurin Barnard and Charlotte Wakefield.
Spring Awakening is one of the darkest, explicit but most sincerely felt musicals, based as it is on Frank Wedekind’s play of the same name. It is set in Germany in the late 1800s. Wedekind was a revolutionary author known for his openness about sexuality and sexual intercourse. He despised bourgeois attitudes, especially about sex. His plays about Lulu, Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box, looked at Lulu’s descent from being a kept woman to destitution including a Lesbian scene and one involving Jack the Ripper. The Lulu plays were more famous until Sheik and Sater’s musical adaptation of Spring Awakening.
The score is alternative rock by Duncan Sheik with the book and lyrics by Steven Sater. There is a beautiful clarity to the sung words. It is pretty raunchy stuff with scenes of sado-masochism and masturbation but it has an honesty lacking in society then, and to a lesser extent, now. The opening number from Wendla (Amara Okereke) “Mamma Who Bore Me” has a girl asking her mother to explain procreation which the mother dodges leaving ignorance and vulnerability in her daughter. “A stork finally visited your sister,” she says.
Miriam Buether’s design might look simple, as black steps fill the stage, with a balcony behind glass which can opaque or clear, above, but it is how it is used for Lynne Page’s exciting choreography and how onto it Finn Ross’s video designs are projected. The costume designs from Nicky Gillibrand too are individual and period but usually in the same monochrome colour palette with great detail. This set can be a line of boys’ school desks or a graveyard or the hay loft where Melchior (Laurie Kynaston) goes to isolate himself or a blackboard.
All the adult parts are taken by just two actors, Mark Lockyer as the sadistic headmaster, a bullying teacher, a Belfast accented preacher, an authoritarian father or one who is more liberal and sympathetic but doesn’t know how to handle the situation. Catherine Cusack is all the women from the sexy piano teacher about whom the boys have sexual fantasies. The piano is choreographed with real dancers as the piano keys. Cusack also plays all the mothers and a cruel and dishonest teacher.
Of the leads Laurie Kynaston as Melchior has already won an Olivier for his portrayal of the named part in The Son in 2019. He is an exceptionally fine actor who can sing as well. Melchior’s tragic friend Moritz (Stuart Thompson) shows amazing nuance and promise. Amara Okereke plays Wendla whose authoritarian upbringing results in her asking Melchior to beat her with a metal belt. We need Sigmund Freud to explain the motivation of her character. Amara Okere’s singing voice is as clear as birdsong. I liked too Ilse (Carly-Sophia Davies) who is the outcast girl in Goth clothes who escaped to the artists’ colony and who might be able to save Moritz.
Figures like phantasms dance behind the glass; the song “Touch Me” is accompanied by a romantic dance in a charming picture of sexual awakening; there are dances which are sexual pelvic thrusts. Melchior and Wendla connect as a ballet in “The Word of Your Body”. The dance in desks is hand movements in a witty moment making us smile and long to join in. The fast rock numbers have energetic dance sometimes synchronised, sometimes randomly anarchic.
What I shall retain especially from this production is the wonderful emotion, the images Rupert Goold has given us, singers who can act and of course Sheik’s score. The day I saw this musical there were numbers of Americans in the audience; British youth need to discover Spring Awakening. I hope there will be plans to stream it if not to transfer this energising production.
Mama Who Bore Me
Mama Who Bore Me (Reprise)
All That’s Known
The Bitch of Living
The Word of Your Body
The Dark I Know Well
The Word of Your Body (Reprise)
And Then There Were None
The Mirror-Blue Night
There Once Was a Pirate
Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind
The Word of Your Body (Reprise 2)
Those You’ve Known
The Song of Purple Summer
Music by Duncan Sheik
Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater
Based on the play by Frank Wedekind
Directed by Rupert Goold
Zheng Xi Yong
Director: Rupert Goold
Choreographer: Lynne Page
Set Designer: Mirian Buether
Costume Designer: Nicky Gillibrand
Video Designer: Finn Ross
Musical Director: Jo Cichonska
Lighting Designer: Jack Knowles
Sound Designer: Tony Gayle
Orchestral Management: David Gallagher and Justin Pearson
Intimacy Director: Ita O’Brien
Fight Director: Bret Yount
Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Booking from 27th December 2021
until 22nd January 2022
London N1 1TA
Phone: 020 7359 4404
Tube: The Angel
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the
at the Almeida at the preview matinée
on 16th December 2021