Musical ‘Spring Awakening’ is any director’s dream project

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It seemed almost uncomfortably appropriate that the audience members filing into the elegant Byre Theatre came from an unusually warm spring day to see the apparently aptly named Spring Awakening. Though certainly the subversive, raw material of the show is any director’s dream, credit must first be given to Jonathan Hewitt’s talents for taking on a project with so many cultural expectations and producing not only a cast with chemistry and musicality to spare, but an experience that was parts harrowing, entertaining, and, in many ways, quite beautiful.

While the cast and choreography all maintained a distinct and companionable air of continuity, the costuming occasionally seemed out of place in such a stylized musical and historical production. Though Spring Awakening notably takes place between various schoolchildren in nineteenth century Germany, multiple audience members sporadically noted their sense of confusion as to the setting of the play at all.

While at least the boys were in similarly simplistic black jeans and white shirts that emphasized the monochromatic boredom of their controlled lives, even these lacked any sort of uniformity, odd, seeing that it is implied throughout that these characters remain almost completely in school uniform. Equally, the girls’ costumes lacked any of this thematically important uniformity at all, dressed in relatively bland and unrelated colours despite references to more specific styles in the script.

Photo credit: Cameron Prentice
Photo credit: Cameron Prentice

It was left to the actors’ imaginations, therefore, to truly bring their suppressed adolescent tendencies to life, and the cast overall did not disappoint. The individually stylistic musical talents of the cast lent well to the show’s rock music based repertoire, and the group numbers, while occasionally a bit out of control, were overall rich in sound and well inflected with emotion. Elliot Douglas gave a fearlessly pained performance as the tortured Moritz, and oozed charismatic tragedy in his solo scenes of internalized pain. The audience seemed particularly affected by his character’s ultimately very universal sense of feeling trapped and purposeless, and his resulting funeral scene was one of the most striking throughout the show, with an overall air of desperation that echoed through the entire cast’s body language as they stood in two rows of what were, heartbreakingly, still children by his grave.

The lighting was notably clever throughout, projecting simple black shadows onto the wall of the stage in scenes between few characters, and bathing the actors in more watery or perilous light in larger ones, creating a spectacle only further compounded by the balletic choreography of Alison Thomas, that required many changes in timing and movement at once, but overall was carried through by the cast convincingly.

The set, the work of technical director Amy Seaman, maintained a minimalist aesthetic that leant itself well to Spring Awakening’s more timeless themes of adolescent pressurized struggles in a world keen on being both parts practical and unscrupulous, dictated entirely by the adults who, importantly, never were referred to by their first names.

In scenes where the stage itself was left bare, save the few actors involved, Seaman’s sets created an extreme contrast between the sizeable barrenness of the stage itself and the comparably childlike size of the actors, further highlighting not only the play’s inherent tragedy- that the characters who experience so much of life in so little time-but the very conundrum of adolescence: being caught vulnerably between two very different worlds. Undoubtedly, this is the type of production with a reputation that alone entails its consistent status as any thespian’s passion project, and Spring Awakening radiated no shortage of passion thanks to the collaborative excellence of its cast and crew.

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