By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: *****
WHEN?: Tuesday 7 December, opens 17 December, booking until 22 January 2022 UPDATE: now extended to 29 January 2022
This production is so powerful that at 1 point a woman in the audience bursts into tears and has to leave while at another a young man is audibly sobbing behind our front row seat.
- Read on for reasons including how we forecast both West End and Broadway transfers for this angry production
The set is black and features 10 stage-length steps reminding of the similarly 5* Evita at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in summer 2019.
There are doors at stage left and right on the levels of many steps and a mirrored corridor at the very top of the set that reminds of this venue’s award-winning Hamlet in spring 2017.
Much of the action takes place in a school classroom and the steps contain hatches allowing the younger members of the cast to sit inside sticking out their heads to remind cleverly of school desks.
Elsewhere the black steps double as blackboards allowing the school pupils to scrawl obscenities and draw sexual sketches as their adolescent enthusiasms spring forth.
The story opens with Okereke’s Wendla going through puberty and imploring her mother unsuccessfully to educate her about sex.
We’re here because we fell in love with the score after the original Broadway production starring Glee‘s Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff won 9 Tonys in 2007 with the West End cast bagging 3 Oliviers 3 years later.
Laurie Kynaston’s Melchior is supporting best friend Moritz played sensitively by Stuart Thompson who we see on the north London street outside the venue an hour or so before curtain up, definitely a name to watch for in future, who is failing at school as Melchior and Wendla become infatuated by each other.
Elsewhere, confident Hanschen, a cocksure Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea, and besotted Ernst, played by Xheng Xi Yong, are finding ways to physically express their forbidden feelings for each other.
The musical was written before Dear Evan Hansen but musically reminds us of both that and US rockers like Green Day.
The best bit for us alongside the innovative staging was the contradiction between the upbeat Totally F*cked, which sees Melchior confront the anger at the way in which he is treated by the cast’s unsympathetic adults, which moves into the beautiful The Word Of Your Body as 2 unexpected characters hook up.
Director Rupert Goold (Ink, Almeida, West End and Broadway), who is also artistic director at the Almeida, always brings something special to his work and we love what he has infused in this.
Initially we thought Kynaston was underplaying the lead role but there is a real understated intensity that he brings to the part which draws you in and can’t fail but to demoralise you at what is to come.
We won’t disclose the gut punches that so shocked the audience here but followers of the Roe vs Wade debate in the US will doubtless be interested in what happens here. When gravestones are illuminated on the stage’s black steps it is a truly heartstopping effect.
As much of Goold’s work has done, this Spring Awakening is so rousing that we forecast it will transfer first to the West End and then to Broadway where the debate it will doubtless spark will say much to 1 of the more controversial issues dogging that country’s politics currently.