Guest Review – Spring Awakening – Novello Theatre

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This review courtesy of Elizabeth Baxter-Williams.

As readers of this blog probably already know, Webcowgirl is lovely. So lovely, in fact, that she gifted me and my girlfriend tickets to A Spring Awakening. I’ve been desperate to see it, and since it closes soon and I’m having a birthday, it seemed the perfect opportunity.

Lastminute.com is offering a £20 deal including dinner at a Sway, a restaurant close by. Bargain-tastic.

So it was that at 5.30 yesterday we arrived at Sway for our pre-theatre dinner. After ordering a pitcher of cocktails from the bar, we waited 30 minutes, and made several more requests to be served, before an order was finally delivered to our table. Great, except it wasn’t our order. Here beginith the disappointment.

Our drinks order rectified, we look at the menu. Being here on a special deal, we are given a limited menu. Fine, you might say, and usually so would I, but the lone vegetarian option on offer is a lowly pasta in tomato sauce, and not what we’re here for. When we ask if we can substitute items from the main menu (at the same cost, I might add) all hell breaks loose. Our wait staff (all of them, since no one seemed to be assigned to our table) were rude and argumentative, harbouring a deep misunderstanding of customer service and we left empty-bellied and more than a little annoyed. I can happily report, however, that The Prince of Wales pub, on the corner of Great Queen Street and Drury Lane, serves delicious nachos and potato wedges.

On to the show. It says in ‘The Bluffers Guide to the Theatre’ that, if one wishes to sound learned and insightful, it is wise to proffer the opinion ‘the director should be shot’ when discussing any performance in the bar afterwards, but I will strive for a fuller review.

Based on 1891 play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, A Spring Awakening is a rock musical. The result that no one can understand anything sung into a mic, so loud and close-lipped the vocals are. In its original form, without the Franz Ferdinand-esque posturing, the play was repeatedly banned. Its frank portrayal of homosexuality, masturbation, sado-masochism, abortion, suicide and rape are often blamed for this, but one wonders, given the date the play was written, if the protagonists atheism isn’t also somewhat to blame.

The story deals with the sexual awakenings of a group of teenagers in a time where little girls were not educated about sex, and little boys had to learn out of books. Despite the misguided wishes of their teachers and parents, this book-learning (or lack of same) gets our young cast into trouble, and by the end of the first act, the protagonists Melchior and Wendla are having sex in a hayloft.

The proscenium arch stage is set as a school room of indeterminate era, and on-stage seats are available to the audience. Even from my restricted view seat in the Gods, this lent a cosiness to the production, enhancing the tender, fumbling moments such as the opening number ‘Mama Who Bore Me’, a plea from daughter to mother to fill her in about the birds and the bees and ‘The Word of Your Body’, a paean to early lust.

There is comic relief to be had in Melchior, Moritz andtheir friends. The male characters sing with gusto about wet dreams and masturbation, and allow us some rest in the lighter side of sexuality. After mentions of child abuse and rape, this is very welcome.

The Grade II listed Novello Theatre is a beautiful, but outside in the interval it is windy, and despite the sun, quite nippy. We do not linger. The second act ranges from the sweet to the comical similarly, but with a much darker edge. Teen suicide, botched backstreet abortions; this is our fayre.

Being a teenager is rubbish. Best days of your life, they say, but it is emphatically Not True. I can’t claim that my own spring awakening was anywhere near as bad as this, but there are moments we can all identify with, from the first discoveries of something that turns you on, to the seemingly earth-shattering secrets that adolescence bestows one with. So, then, I allow the pretensions of this show, it deserves it. There’s room for improvement in the forgettable lyrics, but otherwise the script is very good; the set is excellent, though set and costume don’t quite gel; the cast is bright and talented, the vocals are strong.

And the director should be shot.

Sway, Great Queen Street, Covent Garden http://www.swaybar.co.uk/

A Spring Awakening runs until 30 May. Some seats are now available at 50% off (lastminute.com), with stage seats at £20.

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