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East of England
posted/updated: 18 Oct 2018 -
Spring Awakening
Book and Lyrics by Steven SaterMusic by Duncan SheikBased on the Original Play by Frank Wedekind
society/company: Leigh Operatic & Dramatic Society (LODS) (directory)
performance date: 17 Oct 2018
venue: Palace Theatre, Westcliff
reviewer/s: Jess Pether (Sardines review)

When your mum asks you what your latest show review is about, and you answer, “German teenagers in the late 19th Century discovering their bodies and having sex, set to a rock music score”, it can be met with a confusing look. But this, in a nutshell, is what Spring Awakening is. Based on a play written in 1891 (so controversial it was banned in Germany), the musical adaptation of the show debuted on Broadway in 2006.

I’d seen the show once before, many years ago, and had hazy memories of simulated sex on stage and the whole thing being rather edgy. But what I didn’t remember was the humour, warmth, depth and emotion of the story and the songs.

Several tales are intertwined throughout the show. Headstrong Melchior Gabor crosses paths with innocent Wendla Bergmann, who is completely naïve to the ways of conception (because her mother refuses to enlighten her), so accidently ends up pregnant when the two have sex. Then there is troubled and intense Moritz Stiefel, who is under intense pressure from his father to succeed at school, and also starts experiencing arousing dreams, which just confuse and scare him further. A homosexual kiss, a tale of fatherly abuse and a whole lot of angst are just some more elements that make up the show.

I was impressed from the minute I took my seat. I’ve been to the Palace Theatre many times, but have never seen a set quite like this one. Any hint of a curtain was gone, and the blackboard-style backdrop reached high into the rafters and into the wings. The cast were sat on stage throughout, which initially I wasn’t quite sure about, but grew to appreciate. There was a separate wooden stage-within-a-stage in the middle of the floor, meaning you could easily focus on the action. In all honesty, the set wouldn’t have looked out of place on a West End stage, so huge credit to Sam Blyth, who also appeared in the show, for its creation.

Now usually, I like a musical whose songs fit with the style of the show. I’m probably one of the only people I know who didn’t love The Greatest Showman (I know, sorry!), because I just couldn’t get on board with modern music set against a 19th Century backdrop. Quite frankly, it usually just annoys me. But with Spring Awakening, I actually quite liked it. The girls sang opening number Mama Who Bore Me looking like a bad-ass girl group and when the boys’ turn came, The Bitch of Living was performed like Green Day on stage at Wembley, complete with jumping on the set and stamping feet. The handheld mics used for numbers like this added to the contrast between old and new, however I think in a couple of numbers later in the show, they were a bit of a distraction, especially when a mic stand was used too. It felt like a kind of barrier between the audience and the character, and at points, I wished they would rely on the head mics they were wearing insread.

The sound that this LODS’ cast produced was amazing. There wasn’t one weak soloist amongst the cast, and Eva Tobin (Wendla) had a particularly beautiful voice. I also really like Matthew Wallace’s voice (Moritz), but could only really hear the beauty of it once he put his mic down and stopped being so angry. Moritz’s story is a sad one (I won’t give it away by telling you what happens) but in moving number Those You’ve Known, you could suddenly hear its purity. And congratulations to MD Rachael Plunkett for getting a spine-tingling, harmonious sound out of the entire cast in finale number The Song of Purple Summer, which gave me goose bumps.

The lighting particularly stood out to me as being very creative in this show, as it included different coloured strip lights across the stage and bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling. I also liked the use of minimal props, like school chairs being used as gravestones. The atmosphere of the show was created well and you could tell it had been thought about carefully.

LODS are a group local to me and this is the first show I’ve reviewed in my home county. It’s easy to get carried away in the excitement of reviewing London shows, but people must remember that amateur groups are often not far away in quality from these. LODS’ Spring Awakening is a brilliant example of a professional-standard amateur group, who even on their opening night, absolutely smashed the performance. Well done to all.

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