Spring Awakening

Jun 29 2018 | By More

★★★★☆ Spring in the step

The Studio: Wed 27 – Sat 30 June ’18
Review by Thom Dibdin

Dark and bruising in many parts, TBC Productions has created a properly adult production of alt rock musical Spring Awakening, which is at the Festival Studio to Saturday.

The musical, based on Frank Wedekin’s 1891 play, concerns the sexual awakening of a group of adolescents – in the time before teenagers had been invented. And while Louise Sables’ production does not explore their sensuality as some do, she confronts other equally meaty concerns with real force.

Mama Who Bore Me — with Mhairi McCall, Sarah Clare, Grace Cowley, Anna MacLeod, Steven Segaud and Sally Pugh

Mhairi McCall, Sarah Clare, Grace Cowley, Anna MacLeod, Steven Segaud and Sally Pugh. Pic TBC Productions

Set in a small provincial German town in 1891, a group of girl friends struggle to understand both their emotions and their role in society. In particular Wendla who, on discovering she is to become an aunt for the second time, asks her mother to explain the facts of life.

Meanwhile the boys, their one-time playmates, are stuck in school, memorising Latin. Worried about the wet dreams which consume him at night, struggling student Moritz turns to his friend, the cynical and clever Melchior, to explain how women’s bodies work.

Moritz’ victimisation by the school authorities and his friendship with Melchior’s mother, parental failures, Wendla’s relationship with Melchior and the infatuations of various of the boys, are all uncovered with angsty lyrics and music which leaves little room for subtlety.

Grace Cowley is a strong Wendla. You might question the odd phrasing decision in the opening Mama Who Bore Me – but that is more to do with the way Steven Sater’s lyrics fit Duncan Sheik’s score. And because Cowley’s delivery finds more meaning than many do.

no uncertainty

Rae Lamond, who plays all the adult female roles, creates a particularly cowardly version of Wendla’s mother. She does not merely refuse to provide the information her daughter needs, but actively gives her the impression that marriage and love are pre-requisites for conception.

B**ch of Living — with Thomas McFarlane, Cameron Kirby, Josef Lawrence, Fraser Shand, David Llewellyn and Kieran Hennigan.

Thomas McFarlane, Cameron Kirby, Josef Lawrence, Fraser Shand, David Llewellyn and Kieran Hennigan. Pic: TBC Productions

Of the four other girls, Mhairi McCall is notably strong as Martha, who reveals that her father beats her. McCall ensures that there is no uncertainty to what else her father does to her when they are alone at night, or that her mother is complicit in this.

The revelation comes in The Dark I Know Well, delivered by McCall with vocal strength and emotional depth. When she is joined by Sally Pugh as Ilse, who has already been cast out of the family home because he has refused her father’s advances, that depth and emotion double.

Sarah Clare as Thea and Anna Macleod as Anna both provide strong backing vocals throughout, but Pugh continues to shine – her lead on the show-closing The Song of Purple Summer sets it up for a spine-tingling balance of optimism tinged with the knowledge of the tragedy of what has gone before.

There is something a lot more abrupt about the boys and their feelings. Fraser Shand puts in a great acting shift as an utterly believable Moritz. He has exactly the right combination of embarrassment and hidden lust, although his singing voice does struggle when it hits the edges of his range is some of the more rocky numbers.

exudes confidence

Kieran Hennigan also gets Melchior spot on. Without being arrogant he exudes confidence and you quite get his youthful attitudes of egalitarianism and fairness which fly in the face of those in authority. He has a powerful voice too, equal to all that is asked of it without straining.

Sally Pugh as Ilse. Pic TBC Productions

Sally Pugh. Pic TBC Productions

David Llewellyn and Cameron Kirby add strength in depth as their classmates Georg and Otto, while Thomas McFarlane is suitably androgynous as Hanschen who plays the system as well as he plays the object of his own desires, Josef Lawrence’s Ernst. Their intimacy is particularly well done.

As director, Sables ensures that this is a crisp and slick production that makes good use of a small playing area. She is sometimes just a bit too slick, though, and could be braver with the big turning points of the narrative, letting them linger just a little more. As it is, they feel rushed – as if their arrival is a relief.

Chanel Turner’s choreography is well used with its combination of stompy, angular moves and more flowing elements. And Laurel Hume’s lighting design is particularly effective in bringing out more nuance in the piece.

There is plenty of nuance, too, from musical director Steven Segaud. He has coached the company well but, more to the point, he gets the band – on stage and visible throughout – to linger on the more evocative elements of the score, where the tendency could be to rush.

This is a powerful production which has a fresh and contemporary take on a piece which has become something of a staple in the amateur musical community.

Running time Two hours 10 minutes (including one interval)
The Studio, 22 Potterrow, EH8 9BL. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Wednesday 27 – Saturday 30 June 2018.
Evenings: 7.30pm; Mat Sat: 2.30pm.
Details and tickets: http://www.edtheatres.com/springawakening

TBC Facebook page: @TBCProductionsEdinburgh.


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