DULOG have taken on a challenging musical which is far more serious and thought-provoking than their previous performances of Cabaret and Anything Goes this academic year. Spring Awakening not only includes a difficult vocal and musical score but also deals with controversial themes. Despite a few minor drawbacks, after only ten days of rehearsals they have succeeded in creating an extraordinary performance that exceeds all expectations of student theatre and is testament to the talent, commitment and dedication of all involved.
Spring Awakening, with music by Duncan Sheik, is based on a German play of the same name written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind and set in 19th Century Germany. The winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, this riveting and provocative show focuses on the sexual frustration and teenage angst of a group of adolescents growing up under the stifling influence of their overbearing parents and teachers. It attacks traditional morals and the repression of sexuality, as well as exploring important themes such as child abuse, homosexuality and masturbation. Spring Awakening is also heartbreakingly tragic, so much so that it can be difficult for performers to depict this intensity of emotion onstage.
However, there are moments in DULOG’s performance in which the actors are able to perfectly capture this passionate energy. Joe McWilliam delivers an excellent performance in the lead role of Melchior Gabor and, with some outstanding acting, succeeds in expressing the tragedy of his character’s story, particularly in the songs ‘Left Behind’ and ‘Those You’ve Known’. His co-star Elissa Churchill demonstrates her exceptional vocal skills throughout the performance, her twenty-seventh show in Durham. Opening the musical with ‘Mama Who Bore Me’, Churchill sets the rebellious and subversive tone for the show. Likewise, Russell Lamb succeeds in accurately portraying the hardship his character Moritz Stiefel must face, particularly in the superbly sung ‘Don’t Do Sadness’. Meriel Killeen as Martha Bessell overcomes the difficulties of this challenging role and does well in her interpretation of the poignant song ‘The Dark I Know Well’.
The most exceptional scenes were those in which the ensemble came together to express the anger and frustration which is so crucial to Spring Awakening. My favourite of these was ‘Totally F**ked’, the energy of which was projected out to the audience with the superb choreography of Abbie Ford. Likewise, the performance of ‘B**ch of Living’ and ‘Touch Me’ perfectly encapsulated the feelings of the disaffected and embittered teenagers. However, the first song, ‘Mama Who Bore Me’, lacked the vitality and oomph that would have allowed it to really hit the audience and be a much stronger opening for the show.
The actors also did well to make the most of the comedic elements of the musical, getting the balance between seriousness and comedy just right. You could cut the awkward tension in the theatre with a knife at some points in the performance, as the audience no doubt wondered what exactly they had gotten themselves into. Yet this nervous discomfort generated more than one laugh, especially during the scene between the characters Hanschen Rilow and Ernst Röbel, played by Charlie Keable and Will Emery respectively.
The staging of Spring Awakening is very commendable. Spring Awakening is the last venture with DULOG for both Izzy Osborne (Director) and Daniel Gosselin (Assistant Director/Technical Director) and they have certainly gone out with a bang. The minimalist set, with a cascade of flowers at the rear to allude to the sense of springtime, was well-suited to a musical in which the performances of the cast should be the main focus rather than their surroundings. The use of a lower level of the stage was creative and added an interesting dynamic, although it was difficult to see this part of the stage from further back in the auditorium. Furthermore, the actors never leave the parameters of the stage, and thus watch the action unfold along with the audience, adding to the surreal nature of the show. The professional and creative lighting efficiently utilized the small stage space to its full extent, by focusing in on different areas of the stage.
Despite some minor drawbacks, DULOG’s Summer term production of Spring Awakening is exemplary for student theatre and is extremely enjoyable. I would certainly recommend it.
Review taken from ‘First Night’ DST reviews.