Spring awakening – The Musical : Young adults and the freedom to make mistakes. (Theatre Review)

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Spring Awakening – The Musical

ATYP Studio 1, The Warf

27 April – 14 May. You can grab your tickets here.

Contrary to popular contemporary belief systems, passion and perversion are uniquely human in the animal kingdom. Therefore our budding interest in sexuality is the very terrain when humans detach themselves from nature. For human’s sex hasn’t been just about procreation for hundreds of years. Rather we live in a complex process of seduction and marriage, subversion and perversion, personal freedoms and self-expression for which sex has become a talisman of whichever political sexual ideology we subscribe to. Sex is more about what you believe to be true than an irrepressible act of nature despite finding proofs for all opinions, no matter how contradictory, in our culture at large. Because sex today does not drive toward its goal (reproduction) but is in fact thwarted by that goal, it has changed in its very substance. To tame and control sexuality then is not to civilize our passionate natures, but rather it is an attempt to dominate a very unnatural excess of explosive physical passion. The appeal to nature to categorise and justify our sexual nature has long been inadequate. This is why the Catholic adage that civilized sex should only be for procreation and the passions are the subjugation of our base animal instinct or coupling for lust, creates a culture that ends up celebrating the animality of humans.

Therefore, the unsolved problem pulsing at the heart of Spring Awakening: The Musical, is not the oppression of adults on teens as first appears, rather it’s the question of responsibility and knowledge. This is highlighted in the shows principle character, Melchior Gabor (James Raggatt) for whom a little information becomes a terrible thing. The shows damning paradox is exemplified in Melchior’s mother, who is shocked to find Melchior sleeps with Wendla (Jessica Rookeward) despite knowing about human reproduction. Wendela cries “Dear god why didn’t you tell me?” to her mother when she is found to be pregnant, but the character of Melchior tells us her knowledge would not necessarily have saved her. Melchior writes a small pamphlet for his friend Moritz (Josh Mc Elroy) to ease the suffering and confusion brought on by the relentless drive of his puberty, but as Moritz cries himself, the knowledge only makes it worse, for now he lies awake dreaming of vagina’s rather than legs. It is this, that the parents who preach abstinence believe – not that teens shouldn’t be informed, but that undeveloped brains are incapable of responsibility with information and knowledge only inflames uncontrollable passions. Franz Wedekind obviously wants teens to be informed, but he insists knowledge is no preventative. What he claims instead is that nothing will protect human teenagers from themselves and the withholding of such information is cruel.

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What Melchior needed was knowledge of how to cheat the system his society established. He needed to know how to defend himself against unwanted pregnancy. Only legal abortion or adequate contraception would have saved Wendela’s life, both of which are abhorrent to societies principles. Ilse (Alex Malone) needed to know how to live a wild life in secret so as not to limit all her choices. Moritz needed to know how to masturbate to pornography in private. Here we start to understand the relationship between sexuality and the larger social order that works against that sexuality. Each feeds the other, and it’s not “Where do babies come from” that teenagers need to know, but “When I engage in forbidden sex with a person entirely unsuited, how do I protect myself against the consequences of my own actions without anyone finding out what I’ve been doing?” It is not the joyful, hopeful celebration of the happy union that needs sexual information, but the secret, ill-advised, anti-societal couplings that need knowledge to be free to continue in secret. This is why adult affairs are only successful within the bounds of marriage. It is the social approval and defense of marriage that makes the illicit sex act desirable, and the same woman, when you are single and available, can never hold the same appeal. It is this problem that Franz Wedekind is highlighting in his novel, which helps us understand why it was so frequently banned. However, to refuse Spring Awakening, is to keep it and its subject matter powerful.

There is something delightful about watching a large cast of talented young people singing, dancing and celebrating the ideas suggested above. Choreographer Amy Campbell infuses each number with lust and fecundity which calls forth the conflicting concerns of every caring parent watching their children develop into sexual adults. The vibrancy and excitement run high as the enthusiastic cast sing and dance their way through the complex and confronting subject matter. Director Mitchell Butel matches this potency in the dramatic action such that movement between the scenes remains fluid. This focus on movement and joyful enthusiasm helps curb the darkness of the narrative and assists in reminding the audience of the marvelous energy young adults bring to their confusion and struggle. All the cast are in good form, rising to the ambitious nature of Steven Sater’s book and Duncan Sheik’s thrilling music, but standouts are the two female leads,  Jessica Rookeward as Wendla and Alex Malone as Ilse. The young women lean into their sophisticated roles, earnest and ardent and have strong voices to match. If there are times when we struggle to catch what the boys have to say, this is never the case with the girls.

The production is large and yet delightfully contained in the round on the ATYP stage. The band sit high above the action at the back, and form a cohesive strong sound that compliments the sentiment of the show. There is so much happening in Spring Awakening: The Musical and yet Mitchell Butel is able to keep a firm grasp on the material never allowing the scope of the project to outrun his creatives abilities. This means this large-scale show is given a touch of intimacy that the subject matter needs and it offsets the playful vibe of the music and draws the audience into the narrative flow. Spring Awakening: The Musical is a wonderful show, performed to a high standard, dealing with complex subject matter in a joyful, vibrant way. It is an exhilarating night of theatre that you can attend with your teens, encouraging long conversations on important subject matter after.

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