Tuesday, July 5

Spring Awakening – Hope Street Theatre

In most instances, a quiet audience would be a sign of a failed, boring performance. Tonight, the quiet is a reflection of an audience completely captivated by the story being played out before them.

Spring Awakening is the multi award-winning musical tale, based on the 1891 play, of teenage discovery – of the wider world around them, and of the more intimate desires starting to blossom as they reach puberty. In the setting of late 19th century Germany, we watch our cast explore new ideas and sensations that have both sweet and tragic consequences.

The show is presented by students of the First Act Drama Studio, which means leading roles are tackled by much younger performers than you might usually expect, given the subject matter. It is an ambitious ask of any performer to bring light and shade to this story and, pleasingly, the youthful troupe do so with startling skill and maturity.

Our three leads, Jack Wright as Melchior, India Poulaud as Wendla and Isaac Hartill as Moritz, are superb in their respective roles. They deliver nuanced performances that belies their young age, tackling heavy-duty subjects such as abuse, teen pregnancy and suicide deftly and sensitively, underpinned by beautiful singing voices used to maximum effect, particularly Melchior’s lament in ‘Left Behind’, Wendla’s opening ‘Mama who bore me’ and Moritz’s ‘Don’t do Sadness’.

Both Poulaud and Harvey Farrell, who makes his mark as fellow student Georg, bring the added talent of playing musical instruments during the performance, if you weren’t already convinced by the ensemble’s versatility.

Another standout is Toby Holmes as Hanschen – his exploration of his bisexuality, with Jake Burke as his wonderfully awkward love interest Ernst, is a scene stealing moment.

Given that Spring Awakening does have some very bleak sequences, it is a pity that this is the relationship which has to be played for comedy, but both do very well, and the light relief is certainly a welcome break amongst the angst.

We have a strong ensemble of adult performers supporting our main cast, most notably understudy Mark Murphy, providing a light-touch steer through the darker moments without taking the spotlight away from our young stars.

The small studio venue lends itself well to the show with a cleverly focused set. The minimal accompaniment (predominately Musical Director, Ashley Walsh, on keys) largely works well, allowing full attention for quieter songs, although ‘The B*tch of Living’ and ‘Totally F**ked’ lack some punch because of it. The regular use of prop microphones also doesn’t really add anything to the performance.

Also, our cast’s age certainly brings an additional layer of authenticity, but there are moments that remind us we are looking at diamonds in the rough.

Now and again, in the height of impassioned dialogue, Merseyside twangs emerge and clash with the Americanised, ‘Glee’-style singing. And we occasionally lose lines, spoken a bit too softly or directed towards the back of the stage instead of the audience. 

But these are minor niggles that training and experience will take care of. Ultimately what we see tonight is a powerful demonstration of emerging talent, proving their acting and singing chops in abundance. The standing ovation at the end is well deserved and given that this is First Act’s first stab at a musical, they are certainly a youth company to watch.

First Act’s next performance is ‘Lion Boy’ in March 2022. For more information visit https://www.firstactdrama.co.uk/

A revival of Spring Awakening opens at the Almeida Theatre, London from 7th December. For tickets visit Almeida Theatre | Launching The Next Generation of British Artists

Reviewer: Lou Steggals

Review Date: 29th October 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★