Report by Northern Scot Film and Theatre Critic, Ian Gill
Suicide. Abortion. Child abuse. These might not be familiar themes for a musical production by a school company, but it is a measure of the talents of the drama students at Gordonstoun School, who presented Spring Awakening at the school’s Ogstoun Theatre last Friday, that they carried it off with their customary aplomb.
Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s teenage rock musical, adapted from a controversial German play by Frank Wedekind, is a bit like Chekhov meets Dawson’s Creek. Or Glee, you could say, in which the show’s original Broadway stars, Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff, went on to become household names.
Set, like the 1891 play, in 19th century Germany, the story centres on a disparate group of teenagers coming to terms with their burgeoning sexuality and a host of associated issues. While Melchior Gabor has made it his business to read up on the subject of sex, hapless schoolfriends like Moritz Stiefel are frustrated and befuddled by erotic dreams. While Georg lusts after his well endowed piano teacher (the deliciously monikered Fraulein Grossenbustenhalter), Martha is beaten and abused by her father. While Wendla Bergmann wants to know about the birds and the bees, her mother is too embarrassed to tell her the facts, with catastrophic repercussions.
In both the original play and the Tony Award-winning musical, there are more swellings, flutterings, tumescence and general teenage hormonal activity than you can throw a stick at. And to its immense credit, this production does not shy away from depicting the difficult and challenging aspects of the piece.
In accordance with the nature of school productions, this is essentially an ensemble work, although it is impossible not to single out certain of the principal players: Inanna P-G, who brought to the part of Wendla an appropriate blend of innocence and angst; Millie M who, as Adult Female, was equally adept at portraying both Wendla’s embarrassed mother and a scheming teacher; Ali B, playing Adult Male, who was menacing in one scene as a teacher and heartbreaking in the next as a bereaved father; Tom W, who brought an ethereal, other-worldly, Eraserhead-like quality to the part of the doomed Moritz; and in the role of Melchior, Oscar Mac, the consummate performer with a voice that wouldn’t sound out of place on a West End stage.
The score is perhaps one of the greatest strengths of Spring Awakening, with numbers which range from the angry and disenfranchised (The Bitch of Living) to the poignant (Those You’ve Known); from the despair of The Dark I Know Well to the final suggestion of redemption and hope in A Song of Purple Summer. Musical director Simon Burbury and his talented band are to be congratulated for doing full justice to the strong vocals of the youthful cast.
In a show that is clearly not without its strengths, others include the timeless relevance of its themes (although whether it is still as easy to believe that a teenage girl would not make the connection between sex and pregnancy is debatable); the relentless energy of its narrative, and the age-old dramatic tension between youthful exuberance and its suppression by adults and other authority figures. It’s a show that could well turn out, in time, to be the natural successor to Hair or Godspell for the MTV generation.
The production also benefits from accomplished, confident direction by the school’s Head of Drama, Nigel Williams; intelligent staging and choreography; attention to detail in lighting and costumes; and universally excellent performances from a cast who are - probably unusually - the right ages for the parts they are playing, but display an artistic maturity beyond their years in their interpretation of them. With energy, enthusiasm and brio, they brought to this ambitious endeavour - which is to be performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month - not only the youthful vigour that it demanded but a heartening and inspirational emotional honesty.
Gordonstoun's production of Spring Awakening will be performing at The Fringe daily from 5-13 August at 1330 at C Venues 34 - Adam House, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1HR. Please note that due to the adult themes, this production is suitable for ages 12+. If you would like to book tickets for the show, please book online via The Fringe website.
Performing in Spring Awakening are (from left to right):
Ali B (Adult Male), Phoebe R (Thea), Simon D (Ernst), Kim P (Greta), Millie M (Adult Female), Tom W (Moritz), Laura B (Ilse), Oscar Mac (Melchior), Inanna P-G (Wendla), Aynsleigh McG (Martha, abused), Lizzie J (Regina), Rob L (Hanschen), Ella B (Martha, hurt), Michael W (Georg), Josh H (Otto), Izzy B (Ingrid) and Phoebe W (Thea).
Further images from Spring Awakening are available on the Gallery below. Please click on the individual thumbnails to enlarge the image.
The directory 'Gallery/Gallery/Spring-Awakening' does not exist. Check your parameters.