Spring Awakening

Aug 13 2016 | By More

★★★★☆    Visceral

Paradise in Augustines: Fri 5 – Sat 13 Aug 2016
Review by Thom Dibdin

Scuzzy and raw in all the right ways, Eusog’s take on the Rock musical version of Frank Wedenkind’s play about burgeoning youth sexuality has a vital edge to it.

Playing on a bare stage – making a virtue of the necessity of fringe get-in times – there is nowhere for the company to hide. Which just adds an extra sense of danger and intimacy to what can be a very distancing piece.

Melchior (Nitai Levi). Photo Mihaela Bodlovic

Melchior (Nitai Levi). Photo Mihaela Bodlovic

Set in Germany at the end of the 19th century – despite the big alt-rock score – Spring Awakening follows a group of youngsters living through the cusp of puberty with parents and authority figures who have no language with which to help them.

There is little desire to do so, given the social pressures of the time – this is several generations before the term teenage had even been invented. The failure to explain the facts of life has devastating consequences as the children explore sex without any knowledge to protect them.

There are a couple of stand-out performances here. Notably from Alice Hoult as Wendla, whose explicit request for information from her mother in the opening number, Mother Who Bore Me, is rejected. It’s her relationship with the hyper-intelligent and deeply cynical Melchior which provides much of the thrust of the narrative.

Hoult creates a complex personality for a character who it woud be all too easy to portray as somewhat superficial. And she not only delivers on the vocal front but handles the scenes of intimacy extremely well.

Nitai Levi also delivers the goods as Melchior. His character has the arrogance and confrontational nouse when taking on the various authority figures and his voice is easily up to the music.

theoretical knowledge

Under firm direction from Emily Aboud, Levi develops Melchior’s relationship with the under-achieving Moritz (Greg Williamson) very effectively, using it to demonstrate the depth of his knowledge and his compassion for the boy who is being drummed out of school but is most terrified by his wet dreams.

Yet, despite his theoretical knowledge of matters sexual, Melchior’s relationship with Wendla ultimately exploits her lack of knowledge – not only leaving her pregnant but, Aboud makes you realise, his liberal mother just as culpable in her own failure to teach her son as Wendla’s is in her failures.

There are solid performances all round from the eleven performers portraying the children. Joe Christie is horribly manipulative as Hanschen – as knowledgeable as Melchior but preferring to operate within the strict confines of society and make them work for him.

There is a real tension to the moment that Kathryn Salmond as Martha reveals the full enormity of the brutality of her home life – her father’s punishment corporal, his abuse sexual and her mother’s knowledge complicit. And her performance of The Dark I Knew is full drama and terror.

James Strahan and Caroline Elms both put in excellent performances as the various grown-up characters. Elms, in particular, working hard (but apparently effortlessly) to ensure that it is clear who is on stage. Indeed, there are times when it is hard to remember that it is just one actress playing them all.

solid precision

Duncan Sheik’s score, packed with bit shouty pseudo-rock numbers, is great for Esmee Cook’s stomping, angry choreography – which is delivered with solid precision from the company – without need to recourse to subtlety.

However it is in the score that any tricky points with the production lie – some of the company don’t have quite vocal power to do it justice. So much so, that you worry for their vocal cords over the run. A situation which is only exacerbated by them being at the edge – or slightly beyond – their natural range.

There is a solid turn from the band under the musical direction of William Briant. Thankfully the basic staging allows them to be on stage rather than lost in the annexe, as they are sometimes in this space, so the sound is nice and crisp.

All told, a more than satisfying outing for this often rather over-wrought show. And one which Emily Aboud has had the guts to find an interesting and different take on.

Running time 1 hour and 25 minutes (no interval)
Paradise in Augustines (Venue 152), 41 George IV Bridge, EH1 1EL
Friday 5 – Saturday13 August 2016
Daily: 9.30pm.
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/spring-awakening-1
Company website: http://www.eusog.org/fringe/
Facebook: eusavoy
Twitter: @EUSOG


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