A really important piece of theatre, fantastically produced. Emphasising the humour amongst this wonderful score, rendered with great vocals and choreography, Sell-A-Door’s Spring Awakening is not to be missed.
Spring Awakening, based on an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind (which was banned in most of Europe for 50 years), was first produced as a musical at the Atlantic Theatre in New York in 2006, then transferred to Broadway and picked up 8 Tony Awards. A 2009 production at the Lyric Hammersmith transferred to the West End, was controversially cut short after two months, yet still managed to collect 4 Oliviers. Now everyone who regrets missing it is in for a treat as it returns for a UK tour.
I’ve seen this musical three times now and would hate to think how many times I’ve listened to the soundtrack (featuring Broadway cast and current day Glee stars Lea Michelle and Jonathan Groff). Yet the success of this play lies not only in it’s score, youthful energy or controversy, but each production’s willingness and ability to shock the audience.
The material is controversial – sexual awakening of the young has been seen in films and read in books countless times, but the immediacy of young sexuality as rendered in bare flesh on the stage has the ability to make even the most self-consciously liberal audience member squirm in their seat. Maybe it’s because this is one of the last taboos, maybe it’s because the memories of trying desperately to figure out what on earth was going on as adolescents are too close for comfort. Maybe it’s because we know that our adult society is still riddled with many of the injustices in its treatment of children as are discussed here. Whilst every parent is still desperate to educate their child, many would still storm out of the theatre at the interval if they had accompanied a 13 year old and then realised that this isn’t just about the birds and the bees.
Whilst listening to the songs in the years between seeing productions, it’s easy to forget how affecting this musical can be. These kids aren’t only working out where babies come from, they’re dealing with relentless educational pressure compounded by conspiring teachers as well as physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their carers. The play deals with suicide, pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality and even adds a dash of sado-masochism into the mix.
The material must be hugely difficult to produce well, but Sell-A-Door have succeeded beautifully here. The cast is excellent, with Jonathan Eio as Melchior standing out in a group of extremely string vocalists, dancers and actors. The set is simple but inventive, the lighting atmospheric and the choreography electric. Greenwich Theatre (a new discovery for me) is also a wonderful space – open and not too big, I’d place a bet that you’d get a good view from any seat.
The tour continues in Greenwich until Sunday 12th (a matinée), then moving on to The Lowry, Salford Quays before finishing in Norwich Playhouse on June 18th – see tour schedule. If you have any opportunity at all, go and see this show, and take your kids (no lawsuits please, I’ve warned you of the content)! It’s certainly the most enjoyable sex education lesson I ever had. Personally, I think that it should be required viewing for teenagers, but that’s probably another article… Enjoy.