‘Spring Awakening’ was intense.
Spring has sprung at Moreton Bay Theatre Company for their latest in a lineup of brave theatrical ventures. ‘Spring Awakening’, a show which tackles themes of sexuality, mental health and abuse among many other heavy topics, follows suit. With nuanced music, impactful narrative and a talented cast, this production delivered an emotional night at the theatre.
‘Spring Awakening’ follows a group of teenagers as they discover their sexuality in a conservative and secretive society, where answers are not provided and condemnation is prevalent. Fatal mistakes are made and those who lead the children are awoken to the impact from their limited guidance. Set in a liminal dystopian world, director Pat James opted to take an alternative approach to a production usually rooted in the 19th century. The details of security cameras gave the production a big-brother-like feeling and provided meaning to the highly conservative ideals displayed within the script.
‘Spring Awakening’ provides the opportunity for an incredibly stylised and visually engaging production. Set design, costuming and props attempted to affirm the dystopian world of the production however, at times, seemed a little half baked. The tree, for example, that stood as the primary set piece would have been more effective had it aesthetically mirrored the surrealism of the alternative, dystopian world. The design felt clunky with a thick trunk and the branches beginning incredibly high, hitting the roof and highlighting the low ceilings. The LED lights that lined the tree were a lovely touch however were not used in a way that highlighted their value. The tree is such an iconic symbol of ‘Spring Awakening’ and it was a shame that a set piece of such visual intrigue was not utilised as creatively as other elements of the production.
NeverLand Theatre is an incredibly intimate space where cast and audiences are on an almost equal level. This allowed director Pat James to integrate the cast within the audience’s space and used every area of the room with great success. Sitting at the front of the theatre however made it difficult to witness the action occurring on opposite ends of the stage. Poignant moments, such as the graveyard scene towards the end of Act 2, lost gravitas because audiences were required to quickly shift their attention from one side of the stage to the other. Blocking, which tightened this intimate moment, may have heightened the emotional intensity and allowed Daniel Radlein (Melchior) more freedom to connect with his deceased friends.
Numbers when the full company were engaged were difficult to fault and rang strongly throughout the theatre. ‘The Bitch of Living’ sung by the male ensemble, ‘The Song of Purple Summer’ and ‘Totally F*cked’ were some of the absolute highlights of the production. Choreography by Maureen Bowra, Taylah Mclennan and Pat James was natural, harmonies were on point (musically directed by Melissa Beilby) and the energy exploded from the stage.
Matthew Bapty (Moritz) was one of the strongest vocalists of the production and committed to his troubled character through every facet of his being. The eventual undoing of Moritz was troubling to witness and Bapty should be commended for delivering such an emotionally vulnerable performance. However, it may have been nice to see a gradual transition into this climactic moment throughout the production. Bapty’s physicality began at a fairly extreme level of intensity which gave him limited room to build.
Daniel Radlein (Melchior) and Audrey Rose (Wendla) were emotionally sensitive and nuanced in their performances, creating many raw and beautiful moments on stage. For someone so young, Rose displayed incredible maturity in her voice and actions which sensitively brought Wendla to life. Radlein treaded the line between abuser and victim effectively and, while his vocals could have packed a larger punch at times, he never faltered in delivering the emotional complexity of the character.
Those within supporting roles were equally capable and suited their casting to a tee. Particular highlights were the comedic timing and generally hilarity of Caelen Culpeper as Georg, a vocally beautiful and emotional performance from Jessica Beilby as Martha and, perhaps the most natural and touching moments were delivered by Tallis Tutunoa as Ilse. Tutunoa’s vocals were faultless while remaining emotionally connected. Ilse’s monologue delivered alongside Moritz was mesmerising and had the entire audience captivated. While there were a few rocky vocal moments from other characters, the storytelling rarely dropped and the audience remained engaged throughout the entire production.
While delivering an incredibly important message, this production should also be clearly headed with trigger and content warnings. A majority of audiences may be cognisant of the subject matter in Spring Awakening however others would be going in unaware. Trigger warnings towards rape, abuse and suicide should be clearly displayed as well as content warnings for nudity, coarse language and mature themes. Creating productions that are real and honest is important however it is equally vital to ensure that everyone going into the theatre is aware of the potentially distressing and triggering nature of the production.
The entire cast and production team of ‘Spring Awakening’ should be congratulated for bringing the themes of self-discovery, acceptance and support to the forefront of audiences minds and for creating a show that tackles intensely emotional situations with sensitivity. Moreton Bay Theatre Company do not shy away from hard hitting productions and we look forward to seeing what they have in store for 2020.
‘Spring Awakening’ plays at NeverLand Theatre from until Sunday, 24 November 2019. Tickets can be purchased at MBTC’s Website.
Photography by Tom Antonio