Spring Awakening

German dramatist Frank Wedekind’s play Frühlings Erwachen – written around 1891 but not performed until 1906 – deliberately kicked against sexually-oppressive fin de siècle Germany. The play’s focus on nascent sexuality – plus rape, child abuse, homosexuality, suicide and abortion – made it a target for many censors since its first English-language production as Spring Awakening in 1917.

Overall, though, this is a top-quality, edgy and raw production that’s a credit to the MGA Academy, its teachers and – most importantly – those students surely destined for great careers on stage and screen.

Yet, arguably, the most surprising thing about the play is that, in 2006, it inspired a rock musical by Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (music). Spring Awakening’s initial Broadway run won several Tony Awards, while there were four Olivier Awards (including Best Musical) following a short run in London’s West End.

So it’s no mean feat that the Edinburgh-based MGA Academy of Performing Arts manages to present such a high quality production of Spring Awakening. Director Andrew Gowland’s production is simply staged; there’s no affectation for realistic scenery and, when not in a scene, the main cast generally join the chorus sat on rows of benches on either side of the stage – echoing an unfinished school games hall. The only downside to this is that, given how the soft rock score feels a tad more 1950s than 1890s, we do have to be told more than once that the year is 1891. But that’s arguably a fault of the musical, not this particular production.

Neither self-conscious nor kitschy, scene changes are signalled simply through brilliant lighting design from Gerron Stewart, while the emotional impact of many of the songs is intensified by Jerome Knols ’forceful choreography. Importantly, a technically superb sound balance of the live band at the back and the miked-up performers up front ensures that there are no distractions from the story being told on stage.

Thomas Docherty is well-cast as the headstrong, handsome and charismatic Melchior Gabor, and he enjoys a real chemistry with on-stage love Elly Jay as the somewhat naive Wendla Bergmann. The pair are already performers who it’s impossible not to watch while on stage, yet it’s fair to say that they have some real quality support. Tom Mullins expresses well the emotional journey for highly stressed and vulnerable “best friend” Moritz Stiefel. Laurie Coburn offers a mature sexuality as the Bohemian Ilse Neumann. Kieran Cooper gets some great laughs out of the piano-teacher-obsessed Georg Zirschnitz, while Jack Douglas sensitively gives real heart to innocent gay classmate Ernst Röbel, who provides a thematic subplot through his relationship with Jack Nixon’s deliciously manipulative Hänschen Rilow.

If there’s one slightly problematic aspect of Gowland’s direction, it’s the decision to put the “boys” in primary school-styled shorts and blazers, while the “girls” are generally found in prim long dresses. Given the muscular maturity of some of the performers, the literal skin-tight trousers leave little to the imagination – an unsettlingly in-your-face sexualisation of childhood.

Overall, though, this is a top-quality, edgy and raw production that’s a credit to the MGA Academy, its teachers and – most importantly – those students surely destined for great careers on stage and screen. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

It’s a small town and the grown-ups hold all the cards!

An electric, vibrant celebration of youth and rebellion, Spring Awakening fuses issues of morality and rock and roll into a story we can all relate to!

A cast of over 100 professionals-in-training from The MGA Academy present a stunning new take on this Tony Award winning Musical.

Dealing with issues of adolescent self-discovery and sexuality with some choice language along the way, some may find this one inappropriate for younger audiences. The music, book and choreography are Rockin’ though!