Spring Awakening

CAITLIN DOHERTY gives this show points for effort, and a few standout moments.

ADC Theatre, 1st – 5th February, 7.45pm, £8 – £12

Directed by Holly Maguire

[rating:3/5]

The first night of Triple Loop’s Spring Awakening was under-confident, technically shaky and lacking that enigmatic  quality of musicals that makes songs erupt out of their singers like untimely expulsions of bodily fluids. Yet it was redeemed by one particular standout performance and a strong sense of directorial professionalism, in bringing undeniable enjoyment to crowd.

Giving a show points for trying is an admittedly unusual move but the desire of the cast to please provided the energy on which the show thrived, as opposed to any real energy in their performances. One major issue with the fin-de-siècle angsties was their widespread (!) inability to dance. Dan Chard’s choreography was, at its best, filled with efficient and forceful movements that echoed the power dynamics of the friendship groups and their shared senses of frustration. At its worst it was a lot of introspective arm-stroking and wriggling on the floor. Routines involving the entire cast were pulled off with more conviction than smaller pieces – the ‘black box’ effect created through the stage design left fewer numbers of performers looking exposed on its raised centre, without necessarily knowing how to fill the space. It was not until ‘The Bitch of Living’, four songs in, that the required ability to sing, dance, and act all at the same time was first seen.

Photographs by Will Seymour

The entrance of Mateo Oxley as Moritz was largely responsible for the improvement, though it is possible that the impression of professionalism made by the show as a whole suffered through his involvement as it only highlighted the gulf of talent and ability between him and his fellow cast members. Oxley was the only performer to embody the distinction made in Director Holly Maguire’s notes between the characters in the ‘song-world’ and in the ‘German-world’. Twitchy, defensive and sexually frustrated to the point of torment in the latter, Oxley convincingly transitioned to a determined and confident Moritz when he sang, becoming potentially the first adolescent in history to try and work through his issues via the medium of pop-rock.

Theo Hughes-Morgan did well as the brooding Melchior, though never maintained the necessary stage-presence to keep the audience hooked. Despite his misanthropic disposition it would have been nice to have seen him move a little when he sang. Sarah Malcolm, as Wendla, arced her performance from a giggling pubescent girl to an emotionally mature young woman, while revealing a disturbing sexual innocence that played against Melchior’s adolescent sense of premature worldliness.

The direction made the most of the interesting space created by the design team. Entrances were punctual and energetic. The blocking was well-thought-out and meant that even from the far-left hand side at the back of the auditorium there were no visibility issues, beyond the confusing decision to constantly get Hughes Morgan, an actor well over 6ft, to climb onto the highest point of the set so that he literally towered above the stage out of the reach of the lights. One other directorial decision must be questioned, and that is the treatment of the gay kiss between Hanschen and Ernst towards the play’s end. The dialogue may well be comic and Matt Eliott-Ripley’s playing of the young aesthete Hanschen as a figure of Wildean decadence entertained the audience, yet the scene came perilously close to laughing at the possibility of romance in a gay relationship. The kiss, which ought to have been a bittersweet consummation of an impossible relationship, became a camp display of sexual flamboyance. Funny in a Carry-On sort of way, but politically troubling.

The enthusiasm of the cast for this production of Spring Awakening was evident throughout last night’s show and ultimately it is this quality that saves it from being merely a lacklustre impression of a Broadway and West End hit and turns it into an entertaining, if uninventive, night out.