Spring Awakening

Wed 13th – Sat 16th March 2013

reviews

Harriet Walker

at 01:11 on 14th Mar 2013

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MTB's production of the rock musical Spring Awakening, adapted from Frank Wedekind’s controversial play, is an utterly captivating and outstanding performance. The musical focuses on the sexual repression of teenagers, following their trials and tribulations through the angst of teenage sexual frustration and exploration. This is an incredibly in-depth portrayal, pushing many boundaries; one song displays a member of the cast masturbating in time to the musical number, causing many stifled giggles from the audience. Playing on the comical aspect of sexual frustration, the musical initially appears to have a more light hearted approach. However, the performance slowly digresses from the comical, and there are dark connotations which underpin scenes foreshadowing the tragedy which is to come. The musical manages to successfully combine the humour and sorrow of the play, as the contrast of emotions creates impact and does not negate either the comical or the tragic.

From the outset the audience is drawn in by the haunting, gorgeous tones of Vanessa Shields (Wedndla), as her solo allows us to enter slowly and melodically into the mentality of the play. However, it escalates quickly and the audience is thrown into a whirlwind of song, dance, and aggressive stomping. The group dances are ambitiously and impeccably choreographed, with very sexual and evocative undertones, reflecting the nature of the musical. The songs are undeniably catchy, creating furious head bopping and food tapping from the audience. What was exceptional about this musical however, were the singing voices of the members of the cast. Each person with a solo had a unique and almost flawless voice, making each musical number an absolute joy to listen to. The voice of Tom Manson (Moritz) brings a very punk rocky feel to the musical, as he usually performs at the front of the stage with a microphone, and once with a guitar in hand. Vanessa Shields (Wedndla) has an enthralling voice which encapsulates both the innocence of her character and her sexual development. And the effortlessly powerful voice of Oli Higginson, who performed the main role of Melchior, carries out across the audience as he performs each song with relish. The sparse stage and use of props allows for the emphasis to be on the performance, and accentuates the bare lives they are living.

An aspect of the performance which I considered to be one of the most impressive was the musical arrangement. The majority of the musicians were placed on stage, incorporated with the musical itself. Living up to expectation, the music created a rock and punk atmosphere, with the use of electric guitars and base. However, combined with more classical instruments, such as a cello and violin, the music gains a touch of a conventional musical, therefore adding emotional impact to the more tragic scenes.

Spring Awakening is a truly superb and unique performance. If you want to see a play that combines furious singing and swearing with intense masturbation then I would highly recommend this. Be prepared for embarrassed exchanged glances between friends, but Spring Awakening does not fail to deliver with an incredible cast and astounding solo performances.

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Rose Bonsier

at 13:38 on 14th Mar 2013

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Wonderfully coy, and at once both tragic and hilarious, Music Theatre Bristol’s production of ‘Spring Awakening’ is the first student musical I’ve ever been to see; and it is, without a doubt, one of the best shows I’ve seen in the union. This talented cast of performers are absolutely phenomenal and their acting, singing and dancing are all pretty much faultless. The show wasn’t without the occasional technical glitch, but this didn’t deter the cast at all and they sustained character and energy all the way through. Most of all I was impressed by the standard of the music, especially the vocals, which were strong and obviously well-rehearsed.

Adapted from Frank Wedekind’s controversial play, the musical version of ‘Spring Awakening’ explores the sexual awakening of a group of closeted and restricted teenagers in 1890s Germany, portraying their discovery of sexual desire and pleasure but also addressing difficult themes such as sexual abuse, suicide and abortion. These potentially uncomfortable topics are probably not what you’d expect to see in a musical but the performers dealt with them in a sensitive and emotive way. Particularly brilliant was Rose Lucas’s performance as Martha, a young girl abused by her father, whose duet with Ilse (Hannah Kendall) was truly haunting and fantastically sung. Another great performance was given by Tom Manson as Moritz, a student struggling to keep up with his academic work and disturbed by his developing sexuality.

The lead relationship between Wendla (Vanessa Shields) and Melchior (Oli Higginson) was also brilliantly played out, with the pair managing to project a real bond and intimacy between them. One of the key moments in the performance was the onstage sex scene between the couple which they had to perform not only once, but twice, and both did remarkably well as the scene required them to bear enough flesh to make it plausibly believable. Also fantastic together were Jamie Budgett and Tom Grant as the suave and seductive Hanschen and the naïve little Ernst. The characterization of the pair was very funny, and their moment of romance was nothing short of adorable.

Yet another incredible duo were Oscar Millar and Letty Thomas who between them multi-rolled as all the adult men and women in the show, giving a convincing performance for every single one. Their satirical performance as the tyrannical headmaster and his equally dictatorial assistant brought a distinctive humour to the show’s attempt to highlight the school’s unfairness and hypocrisy.

As with most musicals, however, it was the group scenes that really made the show; the sophisticated dance routines that joined the group musical numbers were amazing and a real credit to director and choreographer Nikita Sellers. One of the most memorable was the group’s rendition of ‘Totally Fucked’ which was performed with incredible energy and a brilliant musical rendition to go with it. The musicians themselves performed on stage with the actors, many of them taking on acting roles as well, and similarly some actors played instruments, an arrangement that allowed for fluidity in the changes between acting and song.

‘Spring Awakening’ is a fantastic example of what can be achieved in large scale production and whilst it doesn’t have the expensive set and effects of a massive West End show, many of the performances were of a similarly incredible standard. It’s the last show in the Winston Theatre before its closure and perhaps in some ways this is fortunate, because another production would really struggle to match it.

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