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Spring Awakening (Almeida Theatre)

(seen at the afternoon performance on 15th January 2022).

This musical based on Frank Wedekind’s play lasted a mere three months in the West End in 2009. Award-winning on both sides of the pond, it joined a list of shows which American teens idolised and Brits went on to reject almost instantly. 

Wedekind’s creation is basically a Teutonic Adrian Mole minus the laughs. Bright rebel Melchoir (Laurie Kynaston) has school and sex on his mind. Friend Moritz (Kit Esuruoso, in for Stuart Thompson) looks to him for clues. Wendla (Amara Okeroke) is clueless and thanks to her mother’s lack of guidance gets ‘clued up’ by Melchoir in a way leading to tragedy.

Steen Sater and Duncan Sheik set it to a slightly Irish-sounding score with intelligent lyrics channelling accurately teen angst. The big number “Totally Fucked” has an aggression every cornered teen will understand, while “Those You’ve Known” is moving on a darkened stage among ghosts and memories. There’s some neat moments in the book too, the school-room scenes brutally well-written and having the monkey shuddering as it encounters Aeneas in the original Latin once again. 

Thus it can see why the Almeida’s artistic director Rupert Goold was determined to give this show another go, and the result is a critically acclaimed production. Goold is simply one of the finest directors working, and arguably of our generation, and the monkey sees no reason with this to doubt his reputation.

With actors cast to perfection – Kynaston has the grit of a man, the mentality of a boy, Okeroke innocence with superb stage-presence and singing voice, and smaller roles including Carly-Sophia’s outsider Ilse and Thomas Grant’s Karl well filled in too, there is plenty to work with. 

Goold’s direction, integrated with Lynne Page’s choreography on an ingenious flight of steps / blackboard / projection screen set by Miriam Buether (augmented by Finn Ross on video design) has the bunch of teenagers sweeping around, up, down, in lines, formations against swirling images; a teenage mind in microcosm and compulsive to watch.

So, why wasn’t the monkey entirely won over? Truthfully, it found the show taken as a whole too emotionally simplistic and shallow while pretending to be deep and meaningful. Perhaps because being of a certain age it could no longer relate to much of the angst as it knows how life erodes it over time.

The story is also episodic and lacks much of a narrative arc, particularly in the first act. The second is more tightly constructed but its direction feels inevitable and the tone uneven when the conclusion finally arrives.

Still, it appreciated the production values and performances and knows it will spark many emotions, particularly for younger audience members, who were out in wonderful droves that afternoon. A cautionary tale for their parents too perhaps. So, satisfactory all round.

3 stars.


Photo credit: Marc Brenner. Used by kind permission of the Almeida Theatre.

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