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Theatre review: Spring Awakening (UK tour) 
11th-Jun-2011 06:44 pm
When Spring Awakening crashed out of the West End two years ago, there wasn't even the consolation of the show touring with its original cast and production (although for a few of its stars that proved to open up other opportunities.) The rather sniffy response here in That London was that the provinces were clutching their pearls in horror at the thought of a musical entirely based around teenage sexuality; now a small-scale production is finally touring the UK but its relatively limited tour doesn't do much to dispel the image of provincial theatre as stuffily rejecting the show. In fact its longest engagement is right back here in London, and local to me at that as it's spending a week at Greenwich Theatre. The show opens with a mother ashamed to tell her daughter the facts of life, an ommission that will lead to tragedy later. vanessaw, a big fan of the show the first time round, is clearly not that mother as she couldn't wait to bring her daughter, now in her early teens, to a show about wanking, suicide and botched abortion whose big showstopper is "Totally Fucked."

Director Pete Gallagher hasn't aimed to recreate the original production but there are a lot of visual similarities. At least the tighter budget means we're spared the sight of Melchior traversing the back wall of the set on a Stannah stairlift. The focus has instead been on getting the requisite energy into the performances, and while it's not quite up there with the West End production it's far from a disappointment. Fit blond Jonathan Eiø plays Melchior. Vanessa said looking at the programme photos that he and Moritz should have swapped roles, I pointed out that after Jonathan Groff in the original and Aneurin Barnard in London she's just used to seeing Melchiors with dark curly hair; and if anything it's a surprise it's taken so long for a musical set in Germany to get a more aryan-looking lead. Anyway Eiø is fantastic, especially in "Left Behind" which he invests with a lot of understated emotion. He's well-matched by Victoria Serra's Wendla, who has one advantage over the West End casting in that she doesn't look like Emma Watson so when she gets her norks out it's not so disturbing. Most of the supporting cast are strong, although Moritz, who given the original casting was the character who had the most to live up to for me, was disappointing: In the event Billy Cullum, presumably cast for his voice more than his acting, ends up doing a bad impression of Iwan Rheon's performance filled with desperate overacting. And James Benn is just plain miscast as Hanschen, completely missing the character's comic narcissism. Cressida Carré's choreography is rather cheesy too.

Where the original creative team found young actors not that much older than the characters, here we have the familiar sight of "teenagers" few of whom look under 30; it's not too distracting for the most part although the contrast with the "adults" is a bit lost since Jane Stanton as The Adult Women barely looks older than the rest of the cast. One of the show's weaknesses is, ironically, that "Totally Fucked" is so good that the rest of the songs are a bit of a letdown from there on - the cast absolutely do this one justice, but they might have been well-advised to follow the lead of the West End transfer, and bring it back as an encore. Frankly, "The Song of Purple Summer" is a pretty duff finale. These of course are issues with the show, not the production, which given how much leaner its resources must have been comes impressively close to the original's standards. Vanessa, having had two years of withdrawal, was worried it might not live up to her expectations but happily it did. (And just as I'm about to post this she's texted me about it so I'll give her the final word: "Oh yeah I liked the way [Eiø] said yes to the question did you write this - resignation and not the defiance of the West End Melchior. Thought that made it his own.")

Spring Awakening by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, based on the play by Frank Wedekind, is booking until the 12th of June at Greenwich Theatre, 14th & 15th June at The Lowry Salford Quays and 17th & 18th June at Norwich Playhouse.
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