Review: Spring Awakening at The Annex Theatre

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Ingenious

An immortal piece of theatre, one that will never stop being talked about.

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On 16th March, I was lucky enough to experience SUSU Theatre Group’s latest project, Spring Awakening, at The Annex Theatre. Inundated with gripping performances and astute staging, this modern adaptation succeeded in almost everything it set out to do.

In particular, the production team should be incredibly proud of the entertaining spectacle they created. The nature of the direction kept the audience entirely engaged with the challenging subject matter, and the set design was unquestionably one of the best uses of space The Annex has ever seen. Split into three main areas, the staging alone maintained the audience’s focus and attention, as each scene was condensed into a particular, intimate location; this was a fantastic way of dealing with the multiple scene changes throughout the play. Although trivial, one aspect of the play that could have improved was the transitions between the scenes. The repetitive music grew ever so slightly tiresome towards the end, and, at times, the transitions could have been carried out with more urgency by the cast members.

Arguably the most impressive aspect of the play was the fact that the script was solely revised and modified by the directors. At no point did a line seem improper or out of place and the script as a whole created the perfect foundation for the actors and actresses to deliver such real and convincing performances.

The cast were proficient at managing the very delicate and sensitive subject matter. ‘Overdoing’ the tragic elements of the play was a clear danger, but every performer dealt with this challenge expertly. Most notably, the subtlety and warmth behind Ieuan Harrild’s portrayal of Moritz was a perfect example of this, as he developed the character’s breakdown in a natural and believable manner. His interpretation of the innocent and naïve teenager was faultless in displaying the intricate aspects of his character. For me, Harrild delivered the most refined performance on the night, although he came up against some very stiff competition.

Although vacant from the entirety of Act One, Tara Gilmore also stood out as Ilse. Her masterful performance opened and closed Act Two, as she took control of her scenes with unparalleled confidence and ease. Moreover, the partnership between Alex Scotchbrook (Melchior) and Cat Lewis (Wendla) certainly lived up to my great expectations. Having performed together in various Theatre Group plays before Spring Awakening, Scotchbrook and Lewis were clearly used to each other’s presence on stage, as they bounced off one another seamlessly. In particular, their scene at the conclusion of Act One left the audience utterly speechless.

Other special mentions must go to Aidan Pittman (Ernst) and Jamie Hemingway (Hans) for handling the dark comedy behind their characters with ease. They supplied comic relief to a play that would have surely been impossibly solemn without it. Hemingway, in particular, should be commended for tackling an incredibly challenging scene effortlessly.

All in all, the production both made my week and ruined my week for all the right reasons! With a strong script, stage, cast and crew, this ambitious project can only be defined as a great success.

Words by Ben Willcocks.

To musical theatre fanatics, the mention of Spring Awakening is quite often followed by a rendition of ‘Mama Who Bore Me’ and images of late nineteenth- century German adolescence, but Emily Bradshaw and Danny McNamee have adapted the original play the musical is based on, a risky move to some (don’t fix something that isn’t broken etc) but a risk that certainly paid off. In my opinion, SUSU Theatre Group’s adaptation not only improved upon the musical/ original version, but updated it so immensely that I forgot which version came first. They managed to convey the musical’s dark and distressing themes of teenage sexuality without losing its original appeal and it was, quite simply, a genius attempt.

Straight away the set design lived up to expectations, justifying exactly why it was kept as a surprise. It is common knowledge that the Annex is a limited space but both Stagesoc and the creative team managed to showcase exactly what you can do with these restrictions. The props and lighting were flawless, the varying levels intensified the piece and the sight-lines were on point. Using the raise for the main part of the set was utter brilliance –a new standard has certainly been set for future shows.

From a performance point of view, Alex Scotchbrook and Ieuan Harrild both combine as show stealers. Harrild plays vulnerable Moritz to sheer perfection and was almost unrecognisable in his role, crafting his acting skills to exceed standards only a small few are talented enough to reach. He particularly shines in Act 2, showcasing Moritz’s utter desperation for happiness, presenting one of the most effective moments of the night. Scotchbrook plays Melchior extremely well, managing to set the tone of the piece without completely upstaging in his (arguably) dominating character. It is an intelligent performance, balancing just the right amount of empathy one should feel for him, whilst simultaneously shocking us in the upsetting scenes.

Cat Lewis shines as Wendla, in a role she is clearly comfortable in (In terms of acting style, not the themes covered). Her diction is faultless and she perfectly manages to portray the susceptible and naive twelve year old foster child. Her pairing with Scotchbrook is flawless, producing performances that surpassed their own personal standards. Both should be proud: it was quite clear how hard the pair (and the directors) had worked to create such believable and raw characters, especially with the distressing themes they had to cover.

Phoebe Judd, Gracie Roach and Tara Gilmore play their respective parts exceptionally well, supporting the more lurid content of the piece sensitively. Aidan Pittman also shines, along with Jamie Hemingway who deservers high praise for the tackling of a rather difficult and awkward moment- suffice to say, he did the scene very tastefully. Hannah Dutton warrants mention for a sincere and quality interpretation of her character as well.

Although there were some weaker performances, the cast as a whole matched professional theatre standards and quite honestly deserved to showcase the piece in a larger forum. It is rare that you can sit in the Annex and forget even being on campus – this is due to the efforts of the creative team and the cast: a sublime example of what strong teamwork can produce.

SUSU Theatre Group certainly had a ‘Spring Awakening,’ producing one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen a group of students attempt – It is no doubt that the praise for this piece will continue into the next year and beyond.

Spring Awakening was at the Annex Theatre.

Words by Jessica Hector. 

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