Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Hats should be suitably doffed to Gordonstoun, the famous Scottish public school which was such a misery to Prince Charles many years ago, for giving their students the chance to rock Edinburgh with one of the great contemporary musicals. And they haven’t done it by halves either. The cast of 16 and the band of 6 are all miked; the set and costumes strike a commendable balance, referencing the London / Broadway originals without just copying them; there’s even a glossy souvenir brochure. Although a mixed success in its serving of the material, it is an unarguable triumph in its showcasing of promising new talent from one of the nation’s most famous schools.
If The Who’s Tommy created the genre of the rock opera, and Jesus Christ Superstar is still its most successful example, then Spring Awakening is the next in line. Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s genius is to preserve the period and tone of Wedekind’s 19th Century original while giving the characters contemporary rock songs about their private thoughts. Few of the songs develop the story so much as the characters. It is this Brechtian approach to musical story-telling which gives it the theatrical sophistication to match its youthful exuberance.
The performers give it their all, with Oscar Macdonald particularly striking as Melchior with an impressive high tenor voice and a demeanour which remind one of Daniel Evans. Inanna Pinheiro-Gibsone and Josh Hall also stand out.
The production, though, lacks the delicacy demanded by the material, smudging the contemporary and period elements where they should be sharply distinct. There is a propensity for ending numbers in tableaux, as if doing The Kids from Fame, which Spring Awakening hardly resembles, and there is enough stamping to put Stomp to shame. Some of the more erotic moments (like the gay kiss and Wendla’s beating) feel side-stepped, and one wonders whether they know what they’re really getting it with lyrics like “let those apples fall” and “grasping at pearls with my fingertips”. This is not a show to get all shy about.
Elsewhere, though, the love song “The Word of Your Body” has a beautiful lightness of touch, and the sex scene – in which a sheet is raised and lowered to reveal different stages in the night of passion – is perhaps the most imaginatively staged sequence.
It’s a hard show to get right, but one can’t fault the ambition of Nigel Williams’ production in not just copying the original staging but creating its own; nor does one doubt the enthusiasm of the cast or indeed the audience whose reaction was rapturous.
This great musical and the play that inspired it are about young people coming to terms with their sexual desires. One hopes that by working on it, this energetic young cast’s theatrical interests will also have come of age.