Hope MiIl Theatre production boldly reimagines German classic of lost youth as musical

  • Youthul cast rework Spring Awakening with a burst of energy for the Glee generation

We already have a musical based on the one of the founding fathers of America, so it is no great leap of the imagination to set a play by one of the founding fathers of German Expressionism to music.

The play’s material at first glance not sound like the content normally associated with musicals: abortion, homosexuality, rape and suicide.

But Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind, currently being staged at Hope Mill Theatre, succeeds (at least partially) in drawing attention to a little known classic from the early 20th century drama canon.

The musical comes ready-wrapped as it were from the US where Steve Salter’s book and lyrics, and music by Duncan Sheik, dusted off Wedekind (perhaps better known for his Lulu plays) for a new generation versed in Glee and The Next Step.

Salter says the play resonated particularly in America because of the violence so often suffered by young people at the hands of guns, gang violence and familial abuse. There is an urgency and thrust to this production by Luke Sheppard which suggests similar echoes in the UK.

The songs do not refrain from portraying the confusion of life for teenagers, whether in turn-of-the century German or western Europe in the 21st century, with titles such as The Bitch of Living and Totally F****d (the latter getting a particularly rapturous reception from the audience). The tumult of youth depicted by Wedekind and its fatal conflict with parental and societal disapproval is picked up by the overwhelmingly young cast, many of whom are making their professional debuts at the Ancoats theatre.

There is a tension in the production between Wedekind’s script and the layering of the songs, and occasionally the script loses out to the emotion unleashed by the music. The joins between the two are not always seamless and one is sometimes left wondering when the cast is going to break into speech.

Doubts aside, there are highly notable performances in the production. Darragh Cowley as Melchior exhibits the right mix of youthful braggadocio and tender craving for Wendela, whose fates are sealed by their doomed union. Both actors equip themselves memorably throughout.

Jabez Sykes as Moritz, another making his professional debut, excels in portraying the lost soul who sees suicide as the only way out from the acid disapproval from his father for his academic failures and self-doubt over his burgeoning sexual awakening.

Purists may chafe at the idea of Wedekind the musical but here is a production with boundless energy which casts aside any doubt over this bold venture.

At Hope Mill Theatre until 3 May.