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Spring Awakening (Susan Elkin reviews)

Spring Awakening

Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater

Music by Duncan Sheik

Director Hannah Chissick

Royal Academy Musical Theatre Company


Star rating: 3.5


I’ve seen many alumni from Royal Academy of Music’s post graduate course excelling in professional shows. It has been a while, however, since I last saw the grass roots course/company at work in the Susie Sainsbury Theatre at RAM.

It is the nature of Spring Awakening itself that the first half feels slow and occasionally dull although there is a lot of action and dynamic theatre in Act 2.

We are in a late nineteenth century community in Germany (the baseline play is by Frank Wedekind) where a group of children become teenagers and are pretty much sealed off from the reality of life, not least what sex is and how it works. Inevitably there are eventually some affectionate experiments one of which leads to disaster and some pretty dark results. It’s a popular choice for students and non professional groups because of the scope it offers for colourful small roles. The RAM production uses a cast of thirteen and there are two alternating casts.

Staged on a minimalist set in which few school desks and basic chairs also stand in for other things such as tombstones, the ensemble work is splendid. Shay Barclay’s choreography is imaginative and slick. I particularly admired the concept of the boys sitting at desks reciting Virgil in a visual, sedentary dance rhythm.

Of course this is RAM so it goes almost without saying that the quality of the singing is outstanding. And the young, nine-piece band in the pit plays Duncan Sheik’s evocative music beautifully. The music is very competently directed by Felix Elliott, leading from the keyboard. He is a Cambridge music graduate currently doing an MA in Musical Direction and Coaching at RAM.

Among the strong cast Beau Woodbridge finds all the initial insouciance and later anguish, anger, passion and despair that the role of Melchior requires. Hannah Eve Walker is delightfully, almost frighteningly, innocent as Wendla and she has an unusually well modulated singing voice.

It’s odd though, I was totally unmoved by the first act, not helped by a technical hitch which necessitated stopping the show for five minutes. By the end, however, this production had me fully on board and really caring about these characters, their loves, trials and tragedies as well as loathing the adults in their lives – nicely and variously portrayed by Holly Main-Grant and Nicholas Curry in the performance I saw. And like most of the audience I wanted to cheer at the end of the vibrant, determined number “Totally fucked” because it’s an assertive mood changer.

I look forward to seeing some of these performers in professional shows soon.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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