A theatre lover's guide to... Spring Awakening cover photo

A theatre lover's guide to... Spring Awakening

A theatre lover's guide to... Spring Awakening cover photo

Lyn Gardner takes you through the controversial history of the rock musical

What is it?

The first London revival of the 2006 rock musical based on the controversial play by Frank Wedekind written in the late 19th century about three adolescents in the grip of puberty. The play was much banned and worried over by moralists.

Why was it controversial?

Wedekind was Frank by name and definitely frank by nature when writing his play about troubled teenagers growing up in a society in which they were kept in ignorance about sex by bourgeois morality. The play includes rape, abortion, suicide, and mass masturbation. One critic described it as seminal. Oh the wit.

Oh, so the average late 19th century theatre offering?

Ahem, no. Not surprisingly 15 years passed before the German premiere and 74 years before it was seen in the UK in a professional production. The Lord Chamberlain’s Office, responsible for censorship on the stage until 1968, declared it one of the most “loathsome, depraved and diseased plays I’ve ever read.” Clearly the Lord Chamberlain led a sheltered life.

So, an inspired decision to turn it into a rock musical?

Well Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater weren’t the first to come up with the idea. In 1984 Sheffield Theatres premiered a rock opera version directed by Clare Venables.

Rehearsal image from Spring Awakening at the Almeida. Photo by Marc Brenner.

Was this Spring Awakening an instant hit?

In New York yes, where it made $35 million and a cart load of Tonys. But the UK production was more troubled. It premiered at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2009 and moved directly to the West End where it was booking throughout 2009. But it only survived 10 weeks.

Too much for uptight English tastes perhaps?

Not for teenagers, who besieged the stage door every night and loved it. But maybe too much for their pockets, particularly in the wake of the 2008 crash. There were dark mutterings that the production could have survived with a little help from theatre owners. This was in the early days of social media too which has since transformed the way theatre is marketed. This time round may well be different.

Any memorable songs?

Yep, 'Totally Fucked' is a masterpiece. I’d say it is definitely a score that benefits from being listened to before you go. It will hook you in.

Will Rupert Goold’s production for the Almeida be different from the original?

That’s a sure bet. Apparently, Goold originally work-shopped the revival with middle aged actors, which plays to one of the show’s themes: in the end we all turn into our own parents. But in the end he took the decision to go with actors fresh out of drama school. Commercially that’s the canny decision and will appeal to a younger demographic which shows such as Six have already tapped into very successfully.

Who will like it?

Anyone who thinks Woyzeck is a masterpiece. Anyone who enjoys Sex Education. Anyone who is a human being.

Spring Awakening runs to the 22 Jan, 2022 at the Almeida. Ticket available here.

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Lyn Gardner
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