Monday, 11 April 2016

Review: Spring Awakening – PTP Academy

On Saturday afternoon I headed to Ealing to watch the matinee performance of PTP Academy’s Spring Awakening. Alongside their performing arts classes and workshops, PTP Academy put on two full-scale shows a year, following a week of intensive rehearsals, and in this case the four performances of Spring Awakening were split between two casts.

This production took place in The Reading Room Theatre, a small fringe space above a pub in Ealing, which lead to an effectively intimate performance of such an inherently emotive and uncomfortable musical.

The cast were already in the room in character as the audience entered, sitting on benches in two rows down either side of the performance area, with the exception of Wendla (Georgia Glover) who was sat on one of two blocks towards the back of the space. The band, which consisted of keys, a guitar and a violin, were playing from this point, seamlessly leading into the opening numbers. Wendla and the rest of the girls gave excellent vocal performances in Mama Who Bore Me and the reprise, firmly setting the standard of talent of this cast.

Photo by Tim Pryse-Hawkins
During the initial interaction between Wendla and her mother (Izzy Owen), the performers became more than just a ghostly version of their character, and were collectively a device for displaying the motives of Wendla and her mother; in an act of persuading her mother to tell her about human reproduction Wendla sits on the laps of the boys, threatening to find out in other ways, whilst her mother idly fixes the hair of the girls, pushing Wendla back into the realms of childhood innocence. It is a real shame that this innovative use of the characters around the edge wasn’t developed further throughout the show, as it would have made for a really interesting dramatic device.

Generally, the space was used really well. There were only a few moments when it felt a little overcrowded, but with the majority of scenes not requiring all performers, their seating around the edge allowed for scenes to overlap one another, heightening the effect of the adult characters being played by the same actors, in the sense that the conflicts and oppression that these young people are up against are universally applied. That is to say that Wendla’s lack of awareness of the female body isn’t just a problem that has arisen between her and her mother, it is a problem shared by all characters and all young people in their society alike (wherever you choose to place that periodically).

The addition of the two raised platforms also contributed to this effect, often giving that physical sense of separation and imposed hierarchy from the adults, and the strength of the barrier from which the ‘youths’ are trying to break free. Both Izzy Owen as Adult Woman and Alex Kirkham as Adult Male offered strong, consistent figures of authority, whilst still portraying colourful distinctions between their individual characters. Kirkham impressively switched from an extremely moving breakdown as Moritz’s father at his funeral, to his stern-faced and unsympathetic school teacher within seconds.

Photo by Tim Pryse-Hawkins
Choreography in Spring Awakening is notoriously littered with stomping and angst, and whilst this production certainly didn’t deprive us from that, there were also some more interestingly creative decisions. One moment that worked particularly well was during The Dark I Know Well, with the Adult Male remaining up on the raised platform watching two of the boys move around Martha (Hannah Parkes) and Ilse (Sarah Toner) as they sang about their fathers’ abuse. It was apparent that cast being able to hear the band in this space became a difficulty during some of the more aggressive numbers, and although the timing of Bitch of Living suffered a little because of this, the cast completely saved it with a powerful and brilliantly executed performance of Totally Fucked.

As an ensemble the cast sounded amazing, and there were some beautiful additions to songs such as Ilse singing melodies from Mama Who Bore Me over the top of I Believe. Vocally, both in speech and song, there were a few consistent accent slip-ups from various performers throughout the show and projection was occasionally over-compensated for the size of the space, but otherwise the whole cast gave a commendable vocal performance.

From the opening lines in Mama Who Bore Me, Georgia Glover played a faultlessly balanced Wendla, portraying both her innocent curiosity and fierce determination with equal success. Similarly, John Crossley’s Melchior’s confident composure was mixed with just the right levels affection and anguish.

Photo by Tim Pryse-Hawkins
Before the show began it was immediately clear to those who know that Lewis Douglas was playing Moritz, with his head in his hands and visibly troubled disposition. Although he maintained this well throughout, his character development would have perhaps been somewhat more effective if it had started on a subtler level, and built up to his final moments.

Not only was Sarah Toner’s voice a complete pleasure to listen to, but her emotive control and complexities conveyed as Ilse, created a much more interesting character than I’ve seen presented before. Ilse was more than a seemingly free outsider; she was a deeply conflicted and psychologically intriguing individual.

PTP Academy achieved a generally impressive production of Spring Awakening, particularly when you consider that this came from only a week of rehearsals, across two entirely different casts. With an evidently talented group of performers and some really interesting staging choices, it was undeniably a moving and thought-provoking experience.


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