- September 5, 2019
It’s amazing to think that this extraordinary piece of work in its original form dates back to 1891. The raw content of the drama must have been truly shocking back then – but in truth what is really shocking is its relevance today. 130 years later and the struggle of teenagers coming to terms with sex and sexuality and an oppressive morality enforced by religion and education systems is hardly any different and when it comes to dealing with teenage depression and male suicide it could not be more relevant for a modern audience.
All this in a rock based musical written by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik and performed by Apollo Productions. Regular readers will know that I am a fan of Apollo and of director and producer Katy Markey, and she and her team seldom fail to impress. This time the company have reached a new level of maturity spurred on by this challenging cult masterpiece, and they more than do it justice. The pared back setting offers a blank canvas against which the story is told. The use of the cast as Greek chorus is effective both dramatically and musically. And when it comes to the music the delivery of every single note is immaculate, a fine band and fine ensemble singing, lifted further by extraordinary solos and duets.
And the word ensemble is seldom used more appropriately than here, each and every member of this cast is totally committed to the whole.
That said their are some very fine solo performances too. Max Bower and Hari Johnson movingly play the young gay characters Hansen and Ernst and their duet is tear promptingly beautiful. Jody King emerges with grace from childhood to womanhood as Wendla, her spiritual innocence wrecked as her heart and more is opened by Melchior but her real needs denied by her terrified mother.
Ollie Hawes as Moritz Steifel is extraordinary, his face pained, his anguish real and his sense of disbelief as he struggles with the truths shown to him and again, deals with oppressive parents and teachers who care little for his needs and inner feelings. His is a remarkable performance in a difficult role which has such darkness.
At the centre of the story is Melchior Gabor, a prodigy, intellectually precocious, vibrant and popular – but also defiantly independent and challenging of the world he has been born into. Ollie Wray is the embodiment of that character, charismatic and committed. He too is challenged and troubled but he is a leader and object of admiration and desire for those around him, a position that inevitably, given the strictures and the morals of the time, leads him down a dark path. Wray can sing and can dance but he can act too, the true example of a triple threat!
The whole is deftly put together by Katy Markey, the driving force behind Apollo. Her skills as choreographer have never been better shown, the dance element is brutal and effective and the way she has steered the dramatic content is purposefully raw but done with great skill and sensitivity.
Spring Awakening is a work that proves two things, the timeless issue of teenage angst and the power of theatre to explore such issues and this production would not be out of place on any West End stage.