Book/Lyrics: Steven Sater
Music: Duncan Sheik
Director: Luke Sheppard
Reviewer: John Roberts
Over the past few years, the exciting partnership between Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment and Joe Houston and Will Whelton of Hope Mill Theatre have single handed changed the face of the Manchester Fringe Scene. In the atmospheric warehouse space in Ancoats, magic really does take place, mainly through hard work and plenty of investment and not the usual scrimping and cost-cutting that the fringe name usually suggests and Spring Awakening is no different.
Gabriella Slade’s intimate set design flows with the Hope Mill aesthetic brilliantly, almost an extension of the very space it’s playing in. Butterflies are encased in glass curiosity cases hanging from the walls, broken windows suggest things aren’t quite as clean and crisp as initial looks would first have it, this is a set that reflects the trappings and inner-turmoil of the show’s characters perfectly.
Based on Frank Wedekind’s coming of age exploration of youthful sexual awakening, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s rock/pop musical helps a more modern audience connect with the themes littered within, however, some of the themes especially that of rape and non-consent are skirted across rather than tackled head-on in Luke Shepperd’s othwerwise energetic and slick production, one just wishes that Shepperd would have pushed harder on some of those themes, for such a bold choice in show, some of the direction especially surrounding the fire and blossoming sexuality around the characters seem to be skirted over rather quickly and the “safer” choice taken – if there is a show where risks can be taken, then Spring Awakening is that show.
It’s not as if the young cast can’t commit to that kind of tension and sexuality, they show it brilliantly and fluidly throughout Tom Jackson Greaves’ hyper-kinetic choreography which when lit through Nic Farman’s atmospheric lighting design brings an almost hypnotic sense to the stage.
There are some strong performances from within the ensemble Darragh Cowley as Melchoir has a real weight as the young protagonist especially during Totally F**ked his strong presence however does makes Nikita Johal’s Wendla seem weaker in comparison – one would argue this is more down to the performer than any directing/character decision. Gillian Kirkpatrick and Neil Stewart give everything to the adult roles but one expects nothing less from actors with their stage experience. Teleri Hughes is a warm and charming Ilse and her rendition of Blue Wind being one of the shows highlight’s.
There is plenty to enjoy in this revival – when the ensemble work together, their dynamism is second to none, Seyi Omooba and Christian Tyler-Wood standing out from the pack. There is a slight issue at times with diction which can mean lyrics can become a little muddy, however, those negatives aside, this is an accomplished and confident production and with some work could easily be the five-star show it has the promise to be.
Spring Awakening continues the trend from Hope Mill and Aria Entertainment to set standards on the fringe incredibly high and long may that partnership continue to be a game changer as it can only improve things for everyone.
Runs until 3rd May 2018 | Image: Scott Rylander