Spring Awakening

Posted on: 07 April 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews Spring Awakening – Michael Mayer’s rock musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s groundbreaking 1890s play.


Love and sex and guilt and despair amongst oppressed German adolescents are explored in Michael Mayer’s rock musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s groundbreaking 1890s play Spring Awakening at the Novello Theatre.

Set in a 19th Century gymnasium illuminated by 21st Century multi-coloured neon, the story, such as it is, centres on a group of teenagers discovering their sexuality against a backdrop of religious and parental repression – one boy gets a girl pregnant while another commits suicide because of poor exam results, and a bullying Teutonic teacher literally beats Virgil into his knickerbockers-clad pupils.

This work which once shocked a German audience still manages to be quite daring for a West End show in the 21st Century with a masturbation scene centre stage. Yet I found it more embarrassing than shocking. This is a play which lacks dramatic focus and a strong narrative comprising a series of vignettes that serve to express the anguish and ecstasy of the young characters.

The succession of lively but unmemorable contemporary songs are designed to take us back to those intense teenage years while conveying the love, lust and anger of the teenage protagonists. Yet I felt they seemed anachronistic in view of the fact that the action is supposed to take place in the late 19th Century. Furthermore to match the Expressionist mood of the piece two banks of spectators (in addition to those already in the stalls and circles) are seated on either side of the stage and although they do not undermine the sense of reality of the play, they do prove distracting.

Nevertheless this is not a dull production – our interest is maintained throughout. This is largely due to the exhilarating energy and freshness imparted by the mainly young, hard working cast who manage to lend credibility to their characters and make us share their joys and heartaches.

But after all the critical praise lavished on this show I was expecting something more involving.

Where: Novello Theatre, London.
Box Office: 0844 482 5171

By Laurence Green

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