There aren’t many pieces of musical theatre where two songs in, you’re already thinking of when you can see it again, but the Hope Mill Theatre’s Spring Awakening is one of those. Packed with emotion and bursting with resonance, it’s a piece of theatre that will grasp you from the first note and have you clinging on until the very last bow.
Set in 16th century Germany, it is a production that tackles the tricky subjects of sexuality, rape, child abuse and puberty. Director Luke Sheppard has approached these themes with authenticity, allowing their relevance in today’s society to shine through. Giving it a northern edge, it is almost as if this gritty musical was written for the Hope Mill Theatre.
Fitting the theatre’s aesthetic like a glove, designer Gabriella Slade has created a visually remarkable set that transports the audience into the lives of these teenagers, as we sit right in on the action. This is enhanced by Nic Farman’s exquisite lighting that intensifies the emotion with rich colour and sudden fleeting darkness. The intimacy of the theatre creates a connection with the characters and their stories, as they entirely consume you.
Darragh Cowley makes his professional debut and gives every inch of himself to the leading role of headstrong young Melchior, whose frustration causes him to fight against the system. Curious and conflicted, Cowley portrays the role with such honesty, and his potent grief in the final number Those You’ve Known is heart-breaking.
Melchior pursues the innocent Wendla, played by Nikita Johal, who struggles to understand her feelings as she falls for Melchior. Johal plays the tenderness of the role laced with such delicacy. We watch her grow and witness her naïve mind darken, Johal portrays this vulnerability with conviction.
Jabez Sykes gives an immensely raw performance as deeply troubled Mortiz who is struggling to live up to the expectation of society. Constantly feeling as if he is letting everyone down, he spirals into a dark place. Sykes’ performance is real, painful and powerful as touches on the complexities of his emotions. With quivering lips his pain felt palpable, giving an emotionally charged and heart-shattering performance.
It’s a real ensemble piece, and every single member of the cast give it their all to create the layers of this textured musical. We delve into the different lives of these youngsters, whether that’s Ernst (Luke Latchman) demented by his sexuality, Martha (Seyi Omooba) hiding the secret of her abuse, or the mystery of Ilse (Teleri Hughes) who is covering up her suffering. It’s a story with universal themes that will touch every member of the audience in a different way.
Despite the sorrowful themes, there are some touching moments of hope that shed light on the piece through humour and playful childishness. Like the seasons, it restores the fact that despite what happens, we keep moving forward.
Musical Director Gareth Bretherton encapsulates the winding emotions through his outstanding arrangement. With punchy and pacy numbers like Totally Fucked and Bitch of Living, in contrast to the utterly poignant Left Behind and Those You’ve Known, the original score is given a new lease of life. However, it is the arrangement of the song Touch Me by both Bretherton and choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves that left me in complete awe.
The choreography is exceptionally innovative and is the real force behind the energy of the production. Sublime from start to finish, Jackson Greaves’ choreography allows us a glimpse into the minds of these teenagers and it’s striking to watch.
The Hope Mill Theatre’s production of Spring Awakening is heartachingly beautiful with a depth of emotion that will linger in your mind for days. A pure example of first-rate acting, it proves that musical theatre is an extraordinary craft. The exemplary cast lifts the bar on what theatre has the power to do.
On at the Hope Mill Theatre until the 3rd of May, tickets and information can be found on their website.