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”

 

 
Laurie Kynaston as Melchior (Photo: Marc Brenner)

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. 

Rear Catherine Cusack as Adult Women, Laurie Kynaston as Melchior and Foreground Amara Okereke as Wendla (Photo: Marc Brenner)

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.

Cast in Spring Awakening (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Musical Numbers

Act One

Mama Who Bore Me

Mama Who Bore Me (Reprise)

All That’s Known

The Bitch of Living

My Junk

Touch Me

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

I Believe

 

Act Two

There Once Was a Pirate

Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind

Left Behind

Totally Fucked

The Word of Your Body (Reprise 2)

Whispering

Those You’ve Known

The Song of Purple Summer

Production Notes

Spring Awakening 

Music by Duncan Sheik

Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater

Based on the play by Frank Wedekind

Directed by Rupert Goold

Cast

Starring:

Laurie Kynaston

Mark Lockyer

Catherine Cusack

Amara Okereke

Stuart Thompson

Maia Tamrakar

 

With:

Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea

Asha Banks

Taylor Bradshaw

Carly-Sophia Davies

Kit Esuruoso

Bella Maclean

Emily Ooi

Joe Pitts

Zheng Xi Yong

Thomas Grant

Mali O’Donnell

 

Creatives

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

Information

Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval

Booking from 27th December  2021 

until 22nd January 2022

 

Theatre:

Almeida Theatre 

Almeida Street

London N1 1TA

Phone: 020 7359 4404

Website: almeida.co.uk

Tube: The Angel

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the 

at the Almeida at the preview matinée

on 16th December 2021