Did you know I write? (II)

Spring has awakened. And we’re totally fucked.

I take my seat in the University of Winchester Performance Gym, ready to watch the student production of the musical Spring Awakening. I am not entirely sure what to expect from today; all I have heard from cast and audience members is that the musical is controversial, hilarious, harrowing and delightfully rude.

I’m having fun reading through the actors’ profiles in the programme, giggling at one or two unfortunate pictures, and being utterly entranced by the production photos. I think to myself, for the first of many times today, that this is not just an amateur student production – this is a thoroughly professional show.

The audience consists mainly of students. Apparently, this is not a show to invite parents to. However, there are a few brave adult faces scattered throughout the audience, mentally steeling themselves no doubt.

The set looks simple, yet powerful and enigmatic. A lone chair stands onstage, a metal scaffold structure looms at the back of the stage, and the whole set is bathed in red light. The audience is buzzing; I hear snippets of conversation, giggles and whispers about the promise of nakedness and lewd behaviour yet to come.

By the interval, I am nearly breathless. The prop placement and scene changes are slick, the actors’ American accents are clear and believable, however at times the occasional word sounds slightly Irish. Every movement onstage is clean and deliberate, all the actors have flair and have clearly rehearsed and polished every little movement they make or posture they assume.

The character of Moritz, played by Jordan Lowdell-Hoyte, was a personal favourite of mine. While the character could easily be played as simply the leading male’s best friend, Jordan managed to establish himself alongside such strong leads and make the audience fall slightly in love with his sweet and well-meaning character, unfortunately mistaken by many as a “hapless moron”. My only criticism is not of him, but of the casting directors (or possibly even the scriptwriters) – he deserved more solos. His voice is smooth yet punchy; he reminds me of a passionate rock star, especially during the song “Don’t Do Sadness”. I felt genuinely heartbroken watching his character meet his terrible fate, and during the funeral scene I had a tear in my eye.

Ryan Grimshaw is totally convincing as the snide and cunning Hanschen. He is hilarious, dramatic and sinister in his portrayal, and the much-anticipated scene in which he frolics with himself onstage is worryingly realistic yet also brilliantly exaggerated. If I did not know Ryan to be lovely, sweet and cheeky offstage, I would definitely believe him to be a real-life Hanschen.

I was also incredibly moved by the musical number “The Dark I Know Well”, sung by Ruby Field (Martha) and Shannon Harris (Ilse). The song was beautifully sung and perfectly devastating; there is a revelation during the song that these two young girls had both been sexually abused by their fathers.

Wendla, played by Rosie Sommerville, was innocent and charming. Her voice was stunning, and I found myself drawn in during her performance in “Those You’ve Known”; her voice was crystal clear and her pitch was flawless. I liked her character, although at times it was difficult to as I was blinded by jealousy during her scenes with the charismatic Melchior (Paul Budgen)...

Usually in a musical production the chorus consists of talented performers who weren’t quite up to the standard to be granted a leading role. In this performance of Spring Awakening, however, this was not the case. The Chorus (Jennifer Barton, Livvy Jones, Lewis McElhill, Marie Osman, Phil Rowlandson and Charlotte Terry) continued to pleasantly surprise me throughout; each member is in possession of a powerful and unique voice and acting talent to spare. They do not simply accompany the lead characters; they complement them and strengthen the entire company.

The themes present in Spring Awakening are exceptionally dark. The questions raised about sexuality and relationships are both awkward and thought-provoking, and the play is constantly challenging the audience’s preconceptions, and at times our squeamishness. Nervous giggles can be heard at certain moments, and there are some scenes which shock the audience into silence. The characters’ words about such mature matters lingered in my mind long after I left the theatre.

The Performing Arts Winchester students’ production of Spring Awakening was every bit as controversial, hilarious, harrowing and delightfully rude as promised, and also beautifully accomplished and genuinely moving in places. And most importantly, every single member of the cast looked like they were having the time of their lives. The students involved, plus the band and backstage screw, are all exceptionally talented and definitely not “totally fucked” (my new favourite song). The performance ended with the entire cast holding their middle fingers in the air, and every pair of hands in the audience clapping.


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