Saturday, January 24, 2009

Spring Awakening @ Lyric Hammersmith, London - review

Went to see Spring Awakening. 2nd preview, and it looked pretty sharp to me. Let's keep this review simple:

- Cast: all good from everyone. Good acting, good voices, good presence. Many are doing their professional debut in this production. Very fresh.
- Staging: very cool. Lighbulbs hang from the ceiling, neons in the theatre, back wall covered in paintings, images, a blackboard listing the songs, more neons and lights, some objects related to the story etc... There are seats for the audience on either side of the stage, where the actors also sit sometimes, and a small band at the back (piano, guitar, fiddle, drums and more). Actors help with the running of the show, moving microphones about, taking the lights down etc, giving a special feel to the proceedings.
- Songs: pretty good. I wasn't sure about the idea of pop-rock tunes for something based on a 1900s play, but it did work. Being a teenager then was worse than it is now, but the angst and the fear and the weight of adults' expectations on your shoulder remain. Mama and Spring/Summer are particular favourites of mine.
- I enjoyed the story and realised it was darker than I expected. Abuse, violence, suicide, teenage pregnancy... it's all in there.
- The one thing I didn't like was the way the gay relationship between two of the boys was treated as comic relief for act 2. I doubt that at a such a religious time, in small-town Germany, two boys realising they loved each other would be so comfortable with it. Why did the audience laugh? Embarassment, probably (as in many other moments of the piece) and because one of the boys suddenly developed cliched manoeurisms (nowhere to be seen beforehand) and we had jokes about licking the cream. Why present it that way? Their future is probably no brighter than that of the 3 main characters...
Anyway this is a small thing...

Overall, this is a very good show and production. The message I got from this was that thank god I am living in 2009, in a (relatively) tolerant society that allows you to be who you want to be and where social norms are not as suffocating as in the past. However, growing up remains tough!

Tickets here.

Review update (4 Feb)
The Guardian - 3 stars
The Telegraph - 5 stars
The Times - 5 stars
The Stage - positive review

6 comments:

Kathy L. said...

Re: the comic relief of the "gay" scene between Hanschen and Ernst -- the scene, the cream, and the skimming of it were all from the original 1891 Frank Wedekind play the musical is based off of. It's not a modern mocking.

Ben said...

Hi Kathy,
Thanks for the clarification, I didn't know! Still not sure about it.
Did you enjoy the show? Or are you going soon?
Best,
Ben

Emily. said...

I thought it was great. Such a nice change from the typical West End musical that seems to only attract the same people. I went last Friday and there was such a range of people there from young performing arts students, to more mature theatre goers. I was so impressed by all the young talent.

Michael said...

Actually, Ben, Kathy L. is dead wrong. In Wedekind's original play, the gay scene is portrayed NOT as as cheap comic relief, but as seriously and intensely as the heterosexual couple. Thats one of the reasons it so shocked the censors in 1891.

Many fans of the show in New York also objected to this cheapening of the original text. How much MORE daring the musical would have been if it followed Wedekinds example here?

Ben said...

Thanks for the comment Michael! I totally agree. I think I need to read the play now...

I agree with Emily as well, the cast is impressive, and there is a great atmosphere in the audience.

Mina said...

Another note about the gay scene! It's not presented as a mockery of gay relationships, rather as a mockery of Hanschen and Ernst as characters -- Hanschen is manipulative and Ernst is too naive to see it coming. It would've been played the same way even if Hanschen was going after one of the girls. They're making fun of the characters, not of their relationship. (Hanschen is signficantly less creepy in the play, so the scene is more serious in that.)

Uh, that said, so glad you enjoyed it. I love this show. 8D