The one where a girl has sex not knowing that she'd make a baby?
****WARNING CONTAINS SPOILERS****
We’ve all been there, sat in Church Halls, school halls, local community theatres ready for a couple of hours of the local butcher banging out his best rendition of “Who will Buy” whilst you clap heartily and throw roses when your housemate walks on stage with their one line and resumes position at the back of the stage dressed as a “villager” for the remaining sixty minutes of act one. So I understand the fear and dread some may have when being asked along to an amateur production.
Fortunately SEDOS Amateur Dramatics are changing that perception with their production of Sheik & Sater’s Spring Awakening. The musical which stormed Broadway became the Marmite of the West End but none can deny the cult following the production has gained. With extreme themes of teenage angst, this episodic production follows a group of children in a rock adaptation to the controversial 1892 German play by Frank Wedekind. The show explores the inner turmoil of sexuality, in an era where “keeping up appearances” pushed the conversation of relationships deep into the unknown, the production deals with issues of pregnancy, teenage suicide, gay relationships, atheism, child brutality, and a defunct education system. So it’s not a whole barrel of laughs and “Get me to the church on time”.
As we take our seats in a transformed Bridewell Theatre, surrounded by a forest of trees, wooden flooring and a light installation of an array of neon its already quite clear that we’re not about to watch a “do it yourself” production. In fact from the off it is clear that director Chris Warner has worked very hard to create a highly polished production… much better than certain productions of this show I have recently seen. What you gain from watching this is that the standard of performance is incredibly high, and this is credit to the people who work various jobs in the day for coming in on an evening to give performances with such energy, commitment and above all talent to rival many theatres across the Fringe. It’s unfortunate you ever have the notion you’re going to an amateur production at all as by the interval the conversation around the bar is all about how good the show is, and “I can’t believe its am dram” as is the very word is a disease.
The high production values ring out within the songs that are vocally demanding yet, under the baton of Musical Director Ryan Macaulay, the rich harmonies fill the theatre. In particular the cast showcase their vocals in the beautiful closing rendition of “Purple Summer” which leaves the audience enrobed in the tingly feeling of something special. Joe Penny as Melchoir delivers a leading performance as the young man who has “worked it all out” not to be controlled by the system, his characterisation is believable and sets up his charming interpretation of “Left Behind” at the funeral of Moritz. Played by Anthony Hagan, the part of Moritz at times felt a little too stagey for my personal preference yet there is no denying that Hagan has a firm grasp on his musical numbers and actually his death was full of emotion and created a poignant moment many who have played the role never manage to reach. The ensemble are all extremely talented with standout performances by Andrew Newton as the sexually active Hanschen, and Aisling Ridge as the innocent and pure Wendla, however Lisa Pilkington as Ilse really steals the show and makes the audience sit up and listen. Her vocals in “Blue Wind” and particularly the opening of “The Song of Purple Summer” literally have the audience melting as her rich raw vocals fill the space and draw the audience in.
With all the clichéd themes and issues this musical ploughs through it is no mean feat for anyone to perform and get right and even by the end of the show the audience disperse wondering if they liked the content of the show or not. One thing however is unanimous and that is that SEDOS have got this production very right. If this high standard can be achieved from evening rehearsals from a cast of enthusiasts then I think producers and actors across the profession may need to pull their socks up and take note.