Spring Awakening

August 26, 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆       Subdued

RSE Theatre (Venue 431): Fri 5 – Sun 28 Aug 2022
Review by Torya Hughes

Edinburgh Little Theatre’s production of Spring Awakening at the RSE Theatre showcases some talented performers, but lacks energy and passion.

Spring Awakening, Steven Sater’s coming-of-age rock musical, explores the frequently turbulent experience of teenage sexuality and emotions. Based on the 1891 play by Frank Wedekind it retains the late 19th century German setting.

A scene from Spring Awakening. Pic Edinburgh Little Theatre

In the world of Spring Awakening, adults are often portrayed as controlling, demanding and downright abusive, whilst the young people are mostly naïve and frustrated by the limits placed upon them. Duncan Sheik’s score ranges from touching ballads to foot stomping anthems, giving scope to explore the emotional journey of the characters through song.

Innocent school girl Wendla Bergman longs for her mother to be honest with her about how babies are made, while the rebellious Melchior Gabor does his best to help nervous friend Moritz Stiefel understand the basic facts of life.

Meanwhile, Wendla’s friend Martha confesses that she is being abused by her father and fears being shunned like Ilse – another classmate who has been left homeless by her abusive parents.

conflicting emotions

The boys struggle with their conflicting emotions – Georg lusts over his piano teacher, Ernst finds himself having feelings for classmate Hanschen, and Otto has a disturbing fantasy about his mother.

Their parents and teachers show little compassion and understanding, often more concerned about how failure in exams or teenage pregnancy will affect their reputation in the community. Unsurprisingly, emotions run high, and the show deals with challenging themes such as sexual abuse, suicide and abortion.

A scene from Spring Awakening. Pic Edinburgh Little Theatre

Edinburgh Little Theatre have assembled a fine cast of young performers to stage this musical, but their talent is frequently hampered by technical limitations and Stuart Mitchell’s directorial choices. There is no set on the tiny stage, with six chairs helping to add levels to the scenes.

The music is a pre-recorded soundtrack, and since none of the performers are using microphones, the track is played quite quietly to ensure that the voices are not drowned out.

To their credit, everyone is clearly audible, but the lack of amplification means that big numbers such as Totally Fucked and The Bitch of Living do not have the required energy to lift the show in between the bleaker scenes and ballads.

enthusiastic choreography

The cast manage some enthusiastic choreography in the limited space available to them, but the pacing of the scenes and the transitions between them is quite slow, particularly in the first act.

Melissa MacNaught is sweetly enthusiastic as Wendla, and shows the character’s journey into disillusionment effectively. Her voice blends nicely with Cameron Kelsey as Melchior in their duet “The Word of Your Body”.

A scene from Spring Awakening. Pic Edinburgh Little Theatre

Kelsey’s Melchior is rebellious and cocky, but he also shows his vulnerable side as things start to fall apart. Matthew Don has a haunted air about him as Moritz, stammering his way through classes and tortured by his own dreams.

Alex Bathe also stands out as sexually confident Hanschen, impressing with a straddle jump in one of the dance routines. Heather Richardson often seems like a ghostly observer as outcast child Ilse, but shows off a strong voice.

Michal Ichanowsky and Ruta Kaite find the differences between the multiple adult characters they play, with Ichanowsky’s leisurely delivery in particular conveying a level of menace. The rest of the ensemble are all capable performers, hampered only by occasionally shaky harmonies.

timeless

The world of the musical is very different from the one we live in now, but the sense of puberty being a time of turmoil is timeless. The teenagers reminisce of simpler times when they played as children, free of the worries of impending adulthood, which only serves to highlight the tragedy of their lives now. ELT has recognised the relevance of the show’s themes, with a collection for SAMH being carried out after every performance.

This is a technically capable but often flat production of Spring Awakening, which needs just a little bit of fire to allow the performers to fully display their talents.

Running time: Two hours and 10 minutes (including one interval)
RSE Theatre (Wolfson Theatre) 22-26 George Street, EH2 2PQ (Venue 431)
Thursday 11 – Sunday 22 August 2022
Daily: 20:00
Tickets and details: Book here.

Edinburgh Little Theatre website: https://edinburghlittletheatre.com/
Facebook: @Edinburghlittletheatre
Twitter: @edlittletheatre

A scene from Spring Awakening. Pic Edinburgh Little Theatre

ENDS

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