Spring Awakening is a musical whirlwind of sex, violence and suicide, and for the most part the cast of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland manages to truly capture the turbulence and trauma of its characters.
Performing with a live orchestra, along with a series of physically demanding sets and props, the actors rise to the occasion and weave perfectly within the environment. The choreography is dynamic and captivating, with gymnasium bars being scaled and swings lowered from the ceiling. This is further complimented by a dusty, rustic aesthetic captured using benches, desks and other assorted school furniture. The visuals of the show are truly riveting, sometimes to the detriment of the musical performances.
At times the songs and dialogue are lost in the show’s frenetic movement, and many performers fail to break from the ensemble and make a lasting impact. This is particularly clear in Those You’ve Known where the three actors playing Melchoir, Moritz and Wendla fail to project and distinguish their own voices, resulting in damaged clarity and effectiveness. However, what never fails to impress is the acting. Max Alexander-Taylor and Sarah Michelle Kelly portray the ferocity of first love impressively, building tension and a sense of blossoming sexuality expertly. Ann Louise Ross and Barrie Hunter also stand out, blending humour and tragedy in their portrayal of several adult figures – including parents and teachers – whilst illuminating the real consequences of the children’s actions in a sobering way.
The highlight of the performance musically is The Dark I Know Well. The actors portraying Ilse and Martha evoke the pain and anger of abuse victims in an intense and powerful way, with the depth and strength of their voices both apart and combined creating a truly moving number.
The orchestra are punchy and invigorating – bringing the music to life and heightening the characters’ tensions and sorrow – and pairs well with the ambitious use of lighting. The production team’s array of technical experiments pay off, their skill and artistry creating a fully developed theatrical experience.
The female ensemble shine, hitting breathtaking harmonies and creating a strong and cohesive sound paired with perfectly timed choreography. With their palpable energy, from the outset they carry the performances throughout the entire show. Collectively, the characterisation of the whole cast is striking. They do justice to Frank Wedekind‘s original characters; in spite of their complicated natures, they are portrayed as relatable and emphatically passionate. The cast find opportunities to inject further emotion into their performances at every moment, especially during the anthem of angst and puberty Totally Fucked.
Despite the performance’s imperfections, Dundee Rep and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland have to be commended for their creative ambition. In the face of Spring Awakening‘s notoriously difficult themes, the cast’s energy and excitement creates a well-acted and stunningly-staged show.