EDINBURGH | GLASGOW | ABERDEEN | INVERNESS | DUNDEE | PERTH

Spring Awakening

at Festival Theatre Studio

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This coming-of-age musical examines a deadly serious subject with humour.

Image of Spring Awakening
Image courtesy of TBC Productions

The musical, Spring Awakening, is based on a German play of the same name written by Frank Wedekind in 1891. An unusual subject for a Broadway hit (for hit it was, gaining 11 Tonys plus 4 Laurence Olivier awards when it moved to London’s West End in 2015), it addresses teenage sexual awakening in a repressed era, and contains suicide, child sex abuse, gay snogging, lots of masturbation, teenage pregnancy, mild S&M and rape (or what do we think, is she consenting?). Perhaps Wedekind hoped it would make a good opera!

The young, amateur company, TBC Productions, was created in 2017, and tonight they have attracted a large and appreciative audience for their Edinburgh premiere, eliciting both sobs and laughs. Played by a cast of 13 women and men, to Duncan Sheik’s music with words by Steven Sater, the two acts are well paced and slickly presented.

Star of the show is the female lead Grace Cowley playing Wendla. With nuance and skill, she shows us the naïve world in which her mother (ably acted by Rae Lamond who, as per tradition, covers all the other female adult roles) refuses to tell her the facts of life and then causes her death from a botched back-street abortion. Praise also goes to Sally Pugh (Ilse) for her heart-felt singing, and the women as a group for their harmonies.

Melchior, Wendla’s boyfriend, is the main vehicle for examining the values of the teenagers’ parents and teachers. His serious monologues and insistent arguments on the best way to bring up and educate children is woven between the comic lines. It is he who narrowly avoids following his friends into the hereafter as a result of their ghostly persuasion in the moving graveyard scene.

There are understandable choreographic nods towards Grease, girl bands, West Side Story (in the Totally Fucked number, two gangs face each other for a dance-off), and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The oft-used red and eerie blue of the lighting rig and dry ice – together with the pounding drums and atonal violin – accompany episodes of innocent curiosity, school-boy humour, fear, guilt and anger. There are some disconnects between the period costumes and modern lyrics; the old-fashioned notions (they reminisce about playing with hobby horses) and the rock beats; and the American accents and the German names. It feels as though TBC Productions are committed to reproducing the musical’s original Broadway formula. 

The pianist and Musical Director, Steven Segaud, does a great job with the variously experienced band.

This is a group of well-focused performers and the understated final song left us with a glimmer of hope for the future.