Brighton Fringe 2011
West Sussex County Youth Theatre invite you to join them.
For all of us who has ever been young, making the transition from innocence and childhood to adulthood will find at least one point of familiarity with this production of Frank Wedekind’s story ‘Spring Awakening’.
With its themes of sexuality and misunderstood adolescence, anyone who has thought of sex, had sex, or even avoided sex, as represented by this young and talented cast of The West Sussex County youth Theatre will connect with this production.
Though the idea of masturbation and abortions might be taboo to many, imagine if you will, being a young girl or boy at the turn of the Century, then place yourself in Germany; then split the boys and girls into separated school classes. What happens next is an explicit (uncomfortable at times) performance through song and contemporary dance.
The wonderful thing about Frank Wedekind’s play of Spring Awakening is that you could stage this strongly written play in a pub, traditional theatre or a black box theatre with very little difference in effect on the audience. When performing the musical version, it must be in a intimate setting to have the desired effect, as the troubled West End, UK production found in its short run in 2009.
In the right setting and company behind it Spring Awakening is ideal for TIE (Theatre in Education) and young audiences (16+) who would no doubt find humor in songs such as ‘Totally F***ed’ and ‘B**ch of Living’ but also the older members of the audience might well find moments such as ‘Those you’ve known’ poignant and tender.
The performance is written in such a way that even the characters such as Georg (Will McGovern) Hanschen (Marcus Power) and Ilse (Emma Procter) are just as integral to the whole story as the larger characters such as Malchior (Morgan Kemeys), Moritz (Philip Teles Amaro) and Wendla (Lizzie Jay).
Director Robin Belfirled and his production team clearly have an understanding of the themes and issues explored in Spring Awakening. Thus the actors (who are all members of the West Sussex County Youth Theatre) are able to delve authentically into the emotions and hardships of the characters they inhabit.
I am sure, with the cast aged similarly to the ages the characters they portray, they are able to pull from their own current life experiences, though I hope the cast never have to go through some of the events in the story, I do hope they experience the joy and celebration that comes with the idea of coming of age.
Laura Schofield, who plays Melchior’s mother Frau Gabor, played the part with a believable and honest tone to her voice in an impressive performance.
This could be said for Morgan Kemey’s and Philip.T Amaro’s performances as Melchior and the troubled Moritz; these were not over-played or characterized like some of the ‘adult’ characters seemed to be. Having the adult parts played by obviously young performers creates a barrier for the audience as the story demands the adults to create authentic authority over the younger characters.
The (somewhat unavoidable) problem in this is that the situations presented in front of the audience call for a maturity in the actors – though very well acted and with the best intentions, the performance might have benefited from WSCYT having a couple of guest actors of an older age to play the parts of Head Master Knochenbrouch and Frauline Knuppledick/Grossebustenhalter. In turn this might have helped the characters really explode with frustration and disobedience during songs such as ‘Totally F***ed’ and the beginning of ‘Touch Me’. These moments of comedy were sometimes lost.
During ‘Touch Me’ – a song about the first sexual encounters and the desire to be intimate – a certain awkwardness arose (again, unavoidable) for the audience witnessing the performers not 100% comfortable with what they were doing on stage. To see some of the younger performers touch themselves was I’m sure for them liberating but for the audience it appeared hard to watch and a bit clumsy (in places).
It is very important if you are to produce and perform a musical with songs such as this, that the choreography and direction is dealt with in a tasteful way. In this performance, it was.
However, the sheer concentration on some of the faces while doing the choreographed movements took the place of what was really needed – a sense of sensuality in facial expression and in some places more physically suggestive movements of a sexual nature, a sense of freedom and improvisation rather than getting to a certain mark
The production values were obviously high and designed with the whole performance and themes clearly understood. The production team and Ono Theatre along with the WSCYT work well together and have showcased both director and performers in a very good light.
The individual main performances were complemented by a fantastic and energetic ensemble with beautiful harmonies throughout the performance under clearly strong and able. musical direction. So, much to be impressed with here.
With some of the cast due to start drama school training it is no suprise that this performance was at times engaging and touching.
I wish all the cast and production team well in their next projects and would suggest to anyone keen on musical theatre and young budding performers to see Spring Awakening.
Robin Belfield should be commended on his efforts to bring such a good show to the festival.