Spring Awakening Bursts Out in August – Review

Spring Awakening – Review

By Jono Oates

Wednesday 7 August at St Mary’s in the Market Square

Let Me In Productions

A new dawn shone out brightly from the arts performance space at St Mary’s in the Market Square with a dynamic and inspiring performance by a new theatre production group in Lichfield on Wednesday evening.

Spring Awakening, a rock musical, was the first performance by the embryonic Let Me In production company and if this is a sign of things to come then the performance arts scene in Lichfield will be in for an exciting future.

The musical is based on the 1891 German play by Frank Wedekindt and it was so controversial in its content and style at the time that it was initially banned in Germany itself. The musical based on the play, with lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheikh, premiered in Broadway in December 2006 and won 8 Tony Award categories in 2007.

The story revolves around a group of young German students at the end of the 19th century whose clumsy attempts to move from naïve childhood to knowing adulthood prove to be the catalyst for a devastating, and tragic, set of circumstances.
Moritz Stiefel is one of the boys, burdened and traumatised by the pressures of school life, he is comforted by his school mates especially the uber-confident Melchior Gabor. Melchior is a favourite with the girls and especially Wendla Bergmann, a young innocent who has been given little idea of the adult world by her domineering mother.
As Moritz struggles with the unrelenting pressures of the world and his unsympathetic teachers conspire to have him thrown out of the school, Wendla and Melchior become closer and closer. When Moritz falls victim to the school’s examination board he spirals in to a deep depression that no one can lift him from and when Wendla and Melchior share a night of unbridled pleasure of unprotected sex the wheels are set in motion for a maelstrom of pain, rejection, angst and self- punishment that will rip the young band of students apart and change their lives forever.

The musical starts off in lighter fashion however with high jinxs, schoolboy (and girl) pranks, double-entendres and casual sexual innuendo with lots of knowing winks and nudge-nudges as the students engage in friendly banter with each other. However as the plot develops Act Two sees a much more menacing, brooding and aggressive stance and violence soon rears its very ugly head.

This tale of two acts is brilliantly carried out by this young and extremely impressive cast, providing an absorbing, riveting and dramatic performance that will live long in the memory.
Joseph Riley is superb as the idealistic Melchior, with a mature performance as he stands up for his friend against the greater power of the school authorities and has a touching and moving relationship with lover Wendla. Wendla is played by Hattie Rumsey with charm and elegance, she has a lovely sweet voice and also struck all the right notes playing the innocent vulnerable young girl tied for far too long to her mother’s apron strings while yearning to find true love. Strong support is provided Lucy Allen, Helen Kitteridge, Sophia Ford and Meg Jacobs as the female friends. Matthew Facchino, Dominic Sterland, Ethan Owen and Luke Bryan are the band of brothers and are equally strong and there is a very tender, and funny, scene between Matthew and Luke as their characters discover that they have more in common with each other than just school books and find themselves falling for each other across the school desk.
The ensemble pieces are fabulous and when all thirteen cast members are lined up there are some glorious soaring vocals and contrasting silky smooth harmonies on show.
The ever reliable and impressive Vickie Beck and Phil Bourn add to the mix as they switch easily and confidently between characters, each playing a number of adult male and female roles.

It is Christopher Buckle who provides the outstanding performance as Moritz though. His eye-popping, twitching, body-jerking portrayal of the emotionally exhausted, paranoid, traumatised and manic depressive failed student is superb, and maintained in every scene. We see all of the traits of mental ill health fully and expressively displayed as we watch Moritz gradually, but completely, unravel – a mesmerising, passionate and empathetic performance and totally believable.

The musical score is very impressive and although the songs are not well known they are instantly likeable and range from tub thumping boot stamping rock through to entrancing ballads.

The choreography by Jessica Lambert is expressive and inventive. The ‘stage’ is a medium sized narrow strip running along the length of the upper floor space at St Mary’s with the audience sitting in rows alongside the channel. So, space is at a premium but Jessica uses the limited space expertly with a number of ensemble pieces that really catch the eye. As the cast of thirteen stride, sprint, jump and pirouette over chairs and desks it is at times like watching a well-rehearsed circus trapeze act and you wonder sometimes how they don’t crash into each other – but that’s the wonder of choreography for you!

Lighting design by Martin Pritchard and Christopher Buckle is superb and, as the sun sets outside the building, the internal spotlights frame and colour the faces and hair of the actors, it is extremely effective. There are also some very nice little feature lighting touches, with cast and props lit up at every opportunity and one very nice little nod to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody to watch out for.

Richard Poynton, who I last saw treading the boards as Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady, is on the other side of the stage in the role of director. He has drawn a memorable performance from his mainly young, and inexperienced, cast and provided a very accomplished and mature production, extremely praiseworthy. There are violent scenes in this production which are, on occasion quite shocking, and they are handled with great sensitivity and care and it is a testament to the director that his cast trust him, and each other, to carry out these scenes in a professional manner.

The layout of the stage means that the audience are very much involved and connected, you are at times so close to them that it is like being an ‘extra’ on a film set, you can clearly see every emotion and facial moment, it is very easy to become

The final shining star of this production is more material than flesh-and-blood though…the building itself. This superb church was built at the height of the Victorian era in 1870 in a Gothic Revival style and, now that the restoration of the building has been completed, it is incredibly stunning with the mezzanine floor affording stunning views of the complex and strident coloured stained glass window. As the natural light fades at sunset and the walls lazily shimmer with soft gold highlights the multi-coloured stage lights take over and the walls and pillars turn purple, blue and red before descending into inky black. A truly outstanding backdrop to an outstanding production and if you haven’t visited the performance space at St Mary’s previously then this is the perfect performance to experience it for the first time in all its varicoloured glory.

As the cast took their final bow following the achingly beautiful final number, The Song of Purple Summer, the audience clapped and clapped until the cast returned for a last bow clearly looking delighted, and slightly surprised, by the standing ovation the received, and deserved.

It is a major achievement by the whole production and well worth going to see – only limited seats remain as a write the review for Friday and Saturday evening so I would book them immediately if they are still available.

Let me in Presents are back with another production at the Lichfield Guildhall in October, so if you don’t get to see their Spring Awakening I’d recommend you book in for their Autumn production – I’ve already booked my front row seat…

**The production contains strong language, violent scenes, nudity and sexual references and acts.

**Photo credit Dominic White Photography

Spring Awakening by Let Me Presents In productions runs until Saturday 10 August 2019 at 8pm, tickets are priced at £18.50 and are available from the St Mary’s Lichfield website at:

www.thelittleboxoffice.com/stmaryslichfield/event/view/101085

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