Spring Awakening, a 1891 German play turned 1990s Broadway smash hit musical about generational divide, sex, mental health and a myriad of other issues, is on at the Robinson College Auditorium next week. I caught up with the cast and crew from the Brickhouse Theatre Company to find out what's in store.
It was clear from the off that this was a team highly dedicated to the production. They knew the play inside and out and had thought through all of its meanings and ramifications. There was also a touching respect between the cast and the crew that was immensely apparent. If the production itself showcases even half of the enthusiasm I felt during this interview, it will be a very successful production indeed.
Martha O’Neil, the Director (MO); Sam Kirby, the Musical Director (SK); Lucia Azzi, Wendla (LA); Jonathan Iceton, Melchior (JI); and Alex Hancock, Moritz (AH).
AS: What is your take on Spring Awakening?
MO: My vision of the show takes what we already know about Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik's Broadway musical and teams it with my own knowledge of the original play and the author, Frank Wedekin. The cast have worked so hard to understand the play, they really know their characters and everything we have incorporated into the show has meaning from Melchior’s (Jonathan Iceton) notebook which was originally his own to costuming including Wendla’s (Lucia Azzi) dress which I bought shortly after seeing the production for the first time in 2009.
AS: How do you think the music helps the 1891 play?
SK: It’s the deliberate anachronism of the music that's the most interesting bit for me. The only time that people say what they actually think is in song. They are like soliloquy’s.
MO: The music itself can be quite representative of the teenage brain in that you go through such extremes. So the rock god moments are undercut by sincere and toned down folk songs.
AS: Do you think that being closer in age to the characters gives you a particular perspective on the story?
AH: It’s easier to channel those thoughts which seem to rational at the time but are completely daft in reality.
JI: This is a musical where nothing is absurd but could happen to you. We can think of people we know who are like the characters. All of the scenes, in fact, are influenced by real events that the original play’s writer saw happening to his friends.
MO: This ties in to the timelessness of theatre that something written in 1851 can still be entirely relevant.
AS: How did you go about interpreting the main character, Melchior?
MO: He has consumed my brain for months and also for years, I first saw this when I was 11 and I have since been overwhelmed by Melchior and the layers to his character.
JI: Melchior is the most layered and complex character I have ever encountered. He’s this isolated and revolutionary figure stuck in this oppressive system in which he’s not really allowed to have any opinions. And he can’t stand that. He only says what he wants to say in song. He’s obsessed with reading far beyond what is in the classroom and writing in his notebook. The reason bad things happen to him is because he assumed he can know absolutely everything about the world just from reading. The theory doesn’t quite match up to the reality and he doesn't really understand why. Wendla says no to things and he thinks the only reason why is because she’s been conditioned to say no.
MD: While in reality, she cannot consent because she has no idea what she’s consenting to. She doesn’t know what sex is and this is the dark part of the opening of the play where her mother simply won't explain this to her.
L: The whole story wouldn’t have happened if Wendla’s mother had told her how children are conceived and the word “mama” opens and closes the show. When Wendla is pregnant, her mother says what have you done to me and with Moritz is the same when he is forced out of school.
AS: What are you hoping an audience full of Cambridge students will get from it?
MO: For me the Cambridge angle on the play is that life isn’t about all that’s known, it's about experience and learning from each other. But what is most important and what I need the audience to take away from it is the importance of communication: young and old, clashing world views…
MD: For Cambridge students it will be particularly relevant as for some coming to university will be their first escape from the parentocracy which is at the heart of this play.
Don't miss out on your chance to see this thought-provoking production. Spring Awakening is on at the Robinson College Auditorium next week from the 20th-24th February. Tickets are available here.