The Brighton-based Apollo Company has chosen for its inaugural production an award-winning musical that speaks strongly to today’s teenage audience.
IMAGINE Romeo and Juliet, with a rock musical score, and more than a nod to shows like Rent, Hair, Matilda and the pupils of Hogwarts school, but based on a 19th-century German play by Frank Wedekind.
Spring Awakening is bang up to date with its complex overlapping themes of teenage angst, mental illness, gay encounters, young male suicide, teen pregnancy and abortion. If all that sounds a heady mix for musical theatre, this show – book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik – carries it off largely due to the huge talent and exuberance of its young cast.
Locked away in some kind of religious school, the boy pupils break all the rules and mix with the local girls in a story of emerging adolescent awareness that in this story leads to three personal tragedies.
Katy Markey directs, produces and choreographs her young players releasing their pent-up emotions and physical desires in sometimes frenzied, wild dance moves and angry revolutionary punk vocals.
Ollie Wray is outstanding as the brilliant, precocious but self-conscious radical atheist teenager Melchior Gabor who finds himself irresistibly intertwined with the hauntingly innocent Wendla, played with a touching innocence by Jody King.
The trio of leads is completed by a disturbingly real performance by Ollie Hawes as the deeply troubled Moritz, who ultimately can find no way out of his unhappiness except by blowing his brains out.
The music is by and large accessible and there are some fine numbers – Wendla’s solo Whispering is but one example, and Touch Me is an ensemble piece that graphically explores the youngsters’ growing awareness of what’s happening in their adolescent bodies.
When his two dead friends visit Melchior we are blown away by their rendition of the trio Those You’ve Known.
Apollo is an offshoot of Apollo Productions and the linked Apollo Academy, through which training ground many of the performers have come.
Performing in a very spacious venue like this former church presents its own problems and the lighting veers from beautifully effective to downright dreadful. There are times when the cast just aren’t lit and others when the back lighting is so much in the audience’s eyes that it kills what’s going on onstage.
That said, this is an inspiring start to a new company and they will be a group to watch in the future on the Brighton stage scene.
Spring Awakening runs at the Spire Centre, Kemptown until September 7
Review by Brian Butler