The success of Deaf West Theatre’s revised production of Spring Awakening in the States has seen a resurgence of interest in the provocative and polarising narrative. Though exceptionally popular amongst those self-confessed contemporary theatre tragics, productions of Spring Awakening seem to be performed quite rarely. This is perhaps largely due to the passion its fans have for the original Broadway production and the critique they are ready to dish out. In that light, it is quite a brave move on PEP’s behalf to open themselves up to the wrath of this particular fandom. Speaking personally, I would consider myself a Spring superfan and often go into an amateur production with reservations. In saying this, PEP should be proud of their ability to stay true to the heart of the production, whilst taking necessary risks to keep the show relevant to an ever demanding audience – risks that, more often than not, paid off.
From the first moments inside the theatre, the audience were met with the collective eyes of the cast already on stage. Throughout the production, the cast would remain on stage, seated to the sides if not part of the immediate action. This created a very enclosed and confined feel that emphasised the influence each of the characters had on one another – all eyes on everyone at all times. It also did well to highlight the emotional and sexual darkness that each of the young people whose stories are laid out for us are encapsulated within. It made for greater opportunities to explore contrast throughout the piece. While the set for the most part was very simple and symmetrical, the cast very much became a part of the set.
The direction of this piece did, at times, come across as rather inspired and well-calculated drawing on the abstract and convoluted nature of early self-expression as well as the interconnectedness of the characters and the duality between those on stage and the lives of adolescents born decades upon decades after. While some moments felt a little empty, drawn out and perhaps lost on the audience, as well as some characterisation inconsistencies which found the final product lack the necessary and credible inner turmoil, confusion, angst and feelings of inescapable proportions that many of the characters share (albeit in different ways), the blocking was very pleasing to the eye and certainly emphasised the art of it all. There were some really beautiful, gentle moments that could have been all the more poignant against incredibly raw and volatile explorations of inner conflict – this just didn’t seem to be a focus.
The choreography was appropriate for the piece and certainly very captivating. It allowed for a very physical representation of the mental instability of some of the characters which is certainly something this particular production screamed for more of. Particularly impressive was the commitment to exposing the growth each character experiences through movement as the narrative progresses. As their sense of self changes, so too does the control and exploration of their body through choreographed movement.
Musical direction was generally very tight, with the band providing much of the angsty feel that Spring is so widely known for. The cast harmonies were simply beautiful and unwavering. The power of their voices together was incredibly moving.
The sound quality was a little bit inconsistent with some pretty pivotal moments taking the fall due to some unfortunate technical issues. This was largely non-influential to the overall vibe, but certainly noticeable. It is anticipated that this would have been rectified as the run went on.
The lighting design also worked exceptionally well to evoke the necessary power and emotion of the piece. While at times some of the design seemed to come across as a little sporadic and perhaps a bit ‘much’ for the small space of The Doncaster Playhouse, for the most part it was stunning and really injected a sense of depth and reflection.
As an ensemble the cast worked rather well together, with much credibility. At times, the relationships did seem a little strained and perhaps a tad mismatched but from a holistic perspective, the group together was quite strong.
Robbie Medica offered a much more gentle Melchior than perhaps is expected. His demeanour came across rather soft spoken and introspective. He seemed less of a progressive and more of a harbourer of a subtlety curious mind. His vocals were very impressive and suited the style and the character tremendously, though it seemed as though there was more there to give in terms of the complexity of the character. Medica shone during ‘Mirror Blue Night’, perhaps one of the most pivotal numbers of the show, truly highlighting the debilitating conflict one goes through at the crossroads between adolescence and adulthood. Unfortunately, much of the focus was taken from him at this point so the audience wasn’t able to forge as strong of a connection and understanding of Melchoir’s tribulations. In saying this, the split focus between him and Mortiz during this number did actually work quite well to make clear that each boy, despite their differences, were connected in more ways than perhaps they knew.
Mortiz, played by Yashith Fernando, also came across as a little softer than usual, as opposed to the chaos audiences are used to experiencing with Mortiz. They were instead confronted with a very obviously sad young boy, drowning in his self-efficacy, unable to set himself free. While the disorder and erratic nature of Mortiz was surely missed, this side of the character was very interesting to experience and perhaps, in some ways, a more powerful portrayal. Fernando was able to unleash some of the bedlam during ‘I Don’t Do Sadness’ which worked well to contrast his previous musings and made clear the built up and hidden turmoil.
As Wendla, Kiane O’Farrell was captivating. Though a little more self-assured than the typical innocent and ignorant Wendla, her gentle and expressive nature was at times calming and at times haunting. Her vocals were just beautiful.
Those in supporting roles were incredibly responsive and provided a brilliant foundation. Notable performances came from Jacqueline Levitas, whose ‘The Dark I Know Well’ was brilliantly uncomfortable and Clary Riven’s ‘Isle’, by all accounts, was stunning.
Rarely peformed, Spring Awakening, is arguably one of the most beautiful pieces of musical theatre to have come out of the last 10 years. If you are a lovely of contemporary musical theatre, making the trip to Doncaster is certainly a necessity.