Spring Awakening

Jul 1 2017 | By More

★★★☆☆    Echo chamber

St Stephen’s: Thurs 29 June – Sat 1 July 2017
Review by Thom Dibdin

There is plenty of potential in Shoogly Peg’s production of the musical version of Spring Awakening, based on Frank Wedekind’s often censored play of 1891, at St Stephen’s to Saturday.

The young company is packed with enough talent to have two casts for some of the key roles not to mention a chorus which brings the cast on stage up to 24. And, when the acoustic of St Stephen’s lets them, they show themselves to be a group which is in firm control of its material.

Kirsty Nicholson-Bennett (Wendla) with Brett Herriot and Georgie Heriot. Pic: Craig McKirgan

However, it is that reverberating interior of the one-time church which ensures that their potential for belting out the big numbers remains just that – potential.

In the quieter numbers and those with reduced accompaniment the quality is obvious. But when the music track gets anywhere over soft, the echo just drowns out any kind of musical subtlety and renders the words all but incomprehensible.

Not a hugely happy matter in a rock musical. Especially one that is big on angst as it portrays the desperate cry of teenagers, constrained and actively harmed by parents – who are, themselves, unable to face up to their own prejudices and fears about sex and sexuality.

There are certainly some spirited performances. Kirsty Nicholson-Bennett gives as good as she gets as Wendla, whose mother is so uptight that she can’t explain the facts of life, in the opening number Mama Who Bore Me.

key moments

Taylor Clark goes great guns too as Melchior, the clever student who looks out for his pal, the under-achieving Moritz (Craig McKirgan), by explaining how women’s bodies work – but who ends up making Wendla pregnant.

Kirsty Nicholson-Bennett and Taylor Clark. Photo Craig McKirgan

Wendla and Melchior have some of the key moments of the show when they are alone together. There is real understanding the first time, with their delicate duet The Word of Your Body. But later, when they are discovering each other’s bodies, the moment is swamped by the music and the ambiguities of the moment are lost.

The extent of the problem for the production is demonstrated in Martha and Ilse’s duet, The Dark I Know Well, which should be a sizzling, powerful cry against injustice. Becca Wicksted as Martha, who is subject to physical and sexual abuse at home and Zoe McRae as Ilse who has been kicked out by her similarly abusive parents, give a solid performance but there is so much more understanding to be had, that is missed.

McRae, who has a wonderfully powerful set of pipes, shows her real abilities in the second half when Moritz is contemplating suicide but Ilse offers him a way out.

McKirgan’s, Don’t do Sadness, followed by McRae’s really splendid Blue Wind and the ensuing duet which puts the two together, works both dramatically and musically. While the next number, the ensemble Left Behind, allows you to see – and hear – the ability on stage.

austere and aloof

It falls to Brett Herriot to take on all the adult male roles with Georgie Heriot in the adult female roles. Herriot has a consistently austere and aloof presence – losing it with suitable anger at the right moments. However director Derek Douglas could have got more variety from Heriot, particularly in depicting Melchior’s liberal-minded mother.

A production which has plenty going for it, but the only clarity is its demonstration of the extent of the sound difficulties with St Stephen’s.

Running time 2 hours (including one interval).
St Stephens Stockbridge, St Stephen St, EH3 5AB
Thursday 29 June – Saturday 1 July.
Evenings: 7.30pm, Saturday matinee: 2pm.

Shoogly Peg website: https://shooglypegpro.wordpress.com/.
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Twitter: @shooglypegpro.

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