Spring Awakening at Hope Mill Theatre: Review

As expected Hope Mill Theatre have produced yet another triumph with their latest production Spring Awakening.

The unique theatre space tucked away in the heart of Ancoats has been delighting audiences since it opened over two years ago, picking up a plethora of awards and nods from the theatre elite along the way.

Owners Joseph Houston and William Whelton, along with Katy Lipson from Aria Entertainment, are committed to bringing fresh productions to Manchester and taking risks on shows that others wouldn’t dare to – Spring Awakening being a prime example of that.

It’s a musical based on the 1891 Frank Wedekind play of the same name and tackles strong subject matters such as sexual discovery, abortion, suicide, abuse and homosexuality. Despite being a hit on Broadway back in 2006, winning 8 Tony’s plus the Best New Musical at the Olivier Awards for its stint in the West End, a UK revival hasn’t been performed for almost 10 years.

Thankfully this bold new production at Hope Mill Theatre means its hiatus is now over and audiences can enjoy Duncan Sheik’s electrifying rock score and Steven Sater’s genre-defying writing, which tells the story of sexual and adolescent discovery.

Playing the ‘awakened’ teens onstage are a crazily talented cast who, for the majority of the ensemble, are stepping on stage professionally for the first time.

Hats off to both Hope Mill and their casting director Verity Naughton who have done an amazing job in their search for new talent from auditions in both London and Manchester. The chosen few beat off over 5000 artists to secure their part in Spring Awakening and you can definitely see why. They are not only incredible singers but are each unique in their own way which adds a real depth to the production and is in keeping with the raw edgy vibe of the musical.

At the helm of the pack is Stockport actor Darragh Cowley who puts in a mind-blowing performance as the rebellious Melchior. Cowley leaves you utterly breathless with his vocals and his acting –  it’s hard to believe that this is his professional stage debut (he’s yet to finish drama school). I predict a great future ahead for Cowley and look forward to watching how high this rising star can go.

Alongside him wowing the audiences is Nikita Johal as Wendla, her rendition of Mama Who Bore Me is so full of passion and her vocals are so achingly pure  –  perfect for the naïve and hopefully nature of the role she plays.

A special mention must also go to Jabez Sykes for his great characterization as the trembling unassured Moritz, struggling to come to terms with his desires.

Luke Sheppard’s clever direction is both sensitive and tasteful, giving the show the delicacy and beauty it deserves. Sheppard is expertly aided by Tom Jackson Greaves’ well-constructed choreography that enhances the storytelling. Their staging of Totally Fucked is a revelation which has the audiences’ hearts pumping with adrenaline as much as the hormone-fueled actors performing it.

Elsewhere both Gabriella Slade and Nic Farman have come up trumps with their contrasting repressed periodic set and modern lighting designs. Slade’s Victorian classroom makes full use of Hope Mill’s intimate space plus there’s a lovely use of pressed butterfly pictures adorning the walls (highlighted at points by Farman’s lighting) which subtly echoes the ‘metamorphosis’ the teens are going through.

Spring Awakening really is an incredible production which at times has you feeling you are not in Ancoats but actually watching a new show on Broadway. Anyone who sees it is sure to witness something special – a powerful, punchy theatrical experience not to be missed.

Runs at Hope Mill Theatre until 3rd May

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