Review – Spring Awakening, Lyric Hammersmith

Tuesday 3 February 2009

spring_awakeningWhen was the last time you fondled the pearl of your distant dreams? Thought so.


How typically perverse of the Whingers to go to see Spring Awakening on the very day that the rest of London was having a Winter Awakening.

Andrew spent Monday eagerly tracking the West End theatre cancellations and praying for the Lyric Hammersmith to make the announcement which would get him off the hook.

The Stage tantalisingly reported cancellations of Mamma Mia!, Jersey Boys, Les Miserables, Oliver!, Avenue Q, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Complicit, Grease, Carousel, Be Near Me, Hairspray, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Wicked, Sunset Boulevard, The Sound of Music, Billy Elliot – The Musical, Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage, Gethsemane, On The Waterfront, The Phantom Of The Opera, Private Lives, Twelfth Night, Stomp, The Mousetrap and We Will Rock You.*

The Guardian clarified that Gethsemane would be cancelled “because a cast member is stuck in Brighton and there are no understudies for Cottesloe productions”.

But it was very all exciting: by early afternoon the Lyric was telling phone callers that the cast and crew were “struggling to get in” but they didn’t know if enough would get in for the performance to go ahead. Andrew asked the theatre to assure the cast and crew not to go to any trouble on his account. After all, this was another one of Phil’s bright ideas.

Steven Sater and Duncan Sheiks Spring Awakening is a Tony Award-winning musical (in the loosest sense of the word; it is- as the Reverend Lovejoy would say – principally rock and/or roll) based on the the original (and once banned) play by Frank Wedekind.**

Apparently the Lyric invited the original creative team behind the New York production to stage the London première with a new (and mostly inexperienced) British cast.

It is “a vibrant and poignant story about a brilliant young student Melchior (Aneurin Barnard), his troubled friend Moritz (Iwan Rheon), and Wendla (Charlotte Wakefield), a beautiful teenage girl – all on a voyage of personal discovery and sexual awakening”.

It is for young people.

It has been described as “the new Rent” which was not an auspicious start given that Andrew had left Rent at the interval and Phil would’ve if he could’ve.

So far, so not the Whingers’ thing.

But add to this the fact that Spring Awakening is about the mostly sexual awakenings of young people and you might as well have landed the Whingers on some strange, distant planet. For it is a long time since each Whinger had his sexual awakening. Indeed, so long that Andrew has effectively retired and Phil has been repeatedly made redundant.


Still, the poster in Hammersmith tube station assured us that the musical has a shivery sensual allure unmatched by anything in the theatre today and so why wouldn’t you go?

Well, you wouldn’t go if you were over 19 years of age for a start because there would be nothing here for you unless you had an unhealthy interest in the sexual awakenings of teenagers.

If one were a cynic, one might say that this show took a very cynical approach towards grooming its young audience. This is a world in which one adult in 16 (approximately) has any redeeming features at all; the rest are simply cartoon bullies.

The young people, on the other hand, are all emotional tortured, misunderstood individuals consistently and repeatedly ill-served by the adults in whose charge they lie.***

young-generation-album-coverUnsurprisingly, they are all deeply angst-ridden about one thing or another. One is so angst-ridden that he kills himself, thus ensuring an irresistible allure for the more musically-challenged emo elements of today’s young generation (Ah, The Young Generation. If only).

Well, of course, there was no end of moping about and what these children most needed was a good slap. In fact in a couple of scenes the generic adults (two actors play all the adult roles between them) did slap them and Andrew fought hard to suppress a cheer.

In fact he wanted to do more than cheer. He wanted to shout, “You think life is difficult now! Ha! Wait until you’re a grown up and you have to pay full price to sit through nonsense like this!” But he kept well buttoned until two of them had died at which point he was unable to suppress his joy and uttered an involuntary “yesssssssssss!”

But even here Andrew was struggling to keep up. Andrew kept turning to Phil asking sotto voce, “Is he/she dead?” He could just about follow what was going on in the first act masturbation number (a musical first for The Whingers and an appropriate motif for the whole show) but probably only because one of its euphemisms is oft applied to The Whingers.

Phil quite enjoyed the Bill T. Jones‘s choreographing of “The Bitch of Living”  and was thrilled by the bizarre revival of early 90s voguing revived in another number. Swathes of the audience reacted wildly to the “Totally F***ed” song, but probably only because it was performed without the coy asterisks. Phil also had plenty of time to admire the distractingly decorative wellies of an on-stage audience member. Andrew, meanwhile, was so taken with the cast’s knickerbockers that he’s currently scouring Matalan for a pair he can squeeze into.

Worst of all was an awful lot of quasi rock-posturing by the cast who (like a lot of rock stars) are not great singers, the sound design was muddy and the lyrics (Steven Sater) often (and mercifully) unintelligible.

Here’s a sample:

Come, cream away the bliss
Travel the world within my lips
Fondle the pearl of your distant dreams
Haven’t you heard the word of your body?

O, you’re gonna be wounded
O, you’re gonna be my wound
O, you’re gonna bruise too
O, I’m gonna be your bruise

fans-of-spring-awakeningAnyway, this is one of those juggernaut shows in whose path there is no point in lying down. There are already just short of 1,000 Facebook fans including one or two people known to the Whingers who really should know better.

It really just wasn’t our sort of thing at all. Having schlepped over to The Lyric worried we might be overnighting in a Hammersmith doorway the least they could have done was start on time. SA went up 17 minutes late (due to technical difficulties) which didn’t exactly help our moods.

Low Rent indeed.

But don’t take our word for it. Judge for yourself with the sights and sounds of Spring Awakening.


* Seriously. Whatever happened to “the show must go on”? Monday 2nd February 2009 ( or “2/2” as it will come to be known) will go down in history as the West End’s darkest hour: the day it abandoned its most fundamental tenet. Whither the spirit of the Windmill Theatre? Of Ethel Merman? Of Lesley Garrett.

**Frank Wedekind is described in the programme by the Lyric’s artistic director David Farr as “perhaps Europe’s most mischievous man of the 19th century. He spent most of his life having sex with Munich cabaret dancers, drinking his way across Europe, and singing rude and subversive songs in dodgy cellar-bars. He went to prison at least once and flouted just about every law imaginable.” and that after the show “there would be no one drunker in the bar afterwards than him”. Do our reputations not precede us as far as Hammersmith?

*** In an early scene the adult mother figure (Sian Thomas, an actress seemingly drawn to plays unworthy of her talents) shies away from giving her daughter a lesson in sex education and so it is clearly her fault when the daughter falls pregnant and dies. But the Whingers think that Spring Awakening is equally culpable for misleading people. Now they may not know much about this kind of thing but, from observations made on Monday evening, heterosexual congress is achieved by the man pulling down the back of his y-fronts while ensuring that the front of them stays in place. Once he has revealed his naked bottom he lies on top of the woman, but not before she has raised her downstage leg a bit. Is that right?


51 Responses to “Review – Spring Awakening, Lyric Hammersmith”

  1. Adoby Says:

    I think your description of “heterosexual congress” according to Spring Awakening just made my day!

  2. Peter Says:

    “heterosexual congress is achieved by the man pulling down the back of his y-fronts while ensuring that the front of them stays in place. Once he has revealed his naked bottom he lies on top of the woman, but not before she has raided her downstage leg a bit. Is that right?”

    Yep, pretty much – it is also required that we buy large triangular sheets which ensure the rude bits of both males and females can be fully covered when lying back afterwards…

  3. Somehow I’m not surprised that the ageing, old, and well preserved Whingers were less than enthralled by this piece.

    And I still like Forbidden Broadway’s take.

    WENDLA: What are ‘intimate relations?’
    MELCHIOR: Well, first you attach four ropes to a platform. I take off my suspenders and we do a little horizontal choreography. Then the lights are turned off and the audience goes to the toilet!

  4. J.A. Says:

    Ah the art of the lyricist:

    ‘Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla
    Bla bla bla bla bla
    Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla
    Bla bla bla bla bla’

  5. Penny Says:

    Does the daughter die because she’s pregnant, or inspite of it? Or was it the unsatisfactory congress to blame?

  6. @ WestEndWhingers: I’ve been meaning to ask either one of you about this, maybe it will merit a discussion in one of our post theatre outings, but what type of production (apart from the opera which I already know you dont do) will you purposely give a miss and why?

  7. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    2 February was Groundhog Day. Just saying.

  8. josh Says:

    oh how RUDE.

    anyway, i am not yet over 19 years of age, so leave me alone, ya big meanies.

  9. phaeton Says:

    You big miseries! The combined age of myself and my guest was 56. We should probably be put down rather than allowed anywhere near Spring Awakening again, but once the horrible HSM-style numbers early on in the first half had given over to darker folky squawkings it was very, very brilliant. I want to go again please. I got ID’d in the supermarket the other day so can totally fit in.

  10. Lee Wilson Says:

    Thankfully for the sake of the show most of the critics agree that this is a fantastic 5 star musical full of stunning performances from the young cast.

    I am a 41 year old show queen that loved it

    What do the whingers know 🙂

  11. phaeton Says:

    I was so totally one of those critics. Five flashy magic stars.

  12. Mike Says:

    Myself and two friends (combined age 182) enjoyed the production so much that we have already booked seats to see it again.

    You do not have to be young to enjoy good productions!

  13. SuzieBee Says:

    Oh dear lord. Sex on stage. NEVER EVER a good idea.

  14. Rabbitinahat Says:

    Having heard the soundtrack a year previous to the day henceforth known as ‘That God Awful Monday’, I was intrigued and drawn in by the american marketing from the Broadway version.

    The awakened teenager in me even ventured a “woof” at some of the US cast members (the men in question are gay, I know, but in my mind it’s all heterosexual congress).

    Then I saw the British version and spent two and a half hours too long watching Hermione Granger and Frodo Baggins agonise over each other while the audience (made up of the cast’s drama school friends) cheered wildly and exclaimed, “Oh my gosh!” at every friggin opportunity.

    I hate theatre that stands in front of you and says, “Ok, we’re gonna shock you. Are you shocked yet? We’re shocking you, aren’t we? OH MY GOD we are like, SO shocking right now”, as evidenced by the random musical number where the homosexual predator w*nked centre stage and the one that ended with the cast giving the audience one finger salutes. Mmm, shocking.

    Was anyone else p*ssed off by the reprise of ‘Word of Your Body’ (lyrics above)? When Hermoine and Frodo sing it, it’s touching and angst-ridden, but when the only two gay characters in the show sing it, it’s apparently incredibly hilarious because, you know, gay people are well funny.
    “Ooh, I’m going to wound you” because I’ll be putting my penis in your bum after I do my best Mr. Humphries impression.

  15. Steve Says:

    I’ve seen the show twice on Broadway and the London production and I think it’s a great piece of theatre. The way the modern music and lyrics are combined into the 19th century story is very clever in my opinion. I also think the cast are very talented and (for once) even better than the original Broadway cast.

  16. Crandal Says:

    Your description of the show is dead on hilarious. I love the show and have seen it 3 times and your description makes me want to see it again and again. Thanks

  17. phaeton Says:

    Rabbitinahat – totally agree with the last par. WTF? My friend had been looking forward to some sexy gays stripping off but we were both a bit non-plussed by the fact it was light relief.

    I didn’t think the shock value was terribly overplayed though simply because they were all Actual Children doing the shocking rather than sweaty 29-year-olds. And the leads were quite hot. Maybe it was the Mark/Ugly Betty hair styles. Weird.

  18. pb Says:

    I haven’t seen the musical, but I had the misfortune of seeing a production of the actual play, and it was incredibly boring and outdated. Surely adding music to an already dull play is unlikely to result in success?

  19. Michael Says:

    Thank you Whingers for your hilarious, devastating and brilliant review. You are Jewels in the Crown of theatrical bloggers

  20. pb: The play is difficult to stage at best. The musical not only rises to the challenge but tweaks the story enough to bring out the emotion and the characters more. Remember that the musical is an adaptation based on the original, and not merely Wedekind with songs.

  21. hannah Says:

    Wingers, you will be glad that the Guardian hasn’t jumped on the five star bandwagon and have given it a very average three.

    I am seeing it tomorrow and am very interested to see what it is like. Especially the bum bit…

  22. Paul Says:

    Really whingers… You were just too OLD for the show! 😉

    While I am not a facebook fan yet, I did find the show far more fun and inventive than any most of those stuffy musicals the west end revives and embalms…

    Great cast too…

  23. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Weedy? Kind of.*

    *copyright Really Useful Puns Plc

  24. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    “most of the critics agree that this is a fantastic 5 star musical” – except the Guardian, as reported above, or The Times (three stars), or the Evening Standard (two), or the Financial Times (three)… the Independent and the Telegraph aren’t “most of the critics”. But maybe you’re privy to information about some of the reviews not published yet, such as the Spectator or the Jewish Chronicle…

  25. jaysam Says:

    What was the stuck stanna starlift bit all about?

    I do feel for the girls, professional debuts in the most godawful dresses.

  26. can anyone explain the episode with the coins … I slept through that, and understood in the bar afterwards it may have been the best bit.

  27. Dame Maureen: The other boys in the reformatory are having a circle jerk. Whoever hits ’em keeps ’em.

  28. James Shaw Says:

    Everyone keeps demanding a brilliant new musical which is genuinely innovative, fresh and compelling . Well this is it. I went with three generations of my family and we all had a fantastic night out. It doesn’t get better than this.

  29. Mr. Zentradi, I am indebted to you. Now I’m sorry I missed it, I do love a bit of theatre in the round.

    And I loved ‘third-rate first-act Sally Bowles’ from your own review.

  30. @ Sir Andrew

    Faded Kink.*

    *copyright Really Accurately-Pronounced Puns Plc

  31. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    @ Dame Maureen – Raid Avis?*

    *copyright Rarely Useful Blog Entries Plc

  32. hannah Says:

    I saw it. I wanted to love it. I didn’t. It was just really… American. Everything was just very overblown. And the chair moving along the wall was truly the most pointless piece of theatre trickery ever.

  33. Leapighero Says:

    An amazing production for any age, ive seen the broadway and westend version and i have to say that the westend was just as good if not better. I immediately fell in love with it and so did all of my friends who i took to see it.

    Its amazing!!!

  34. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    I think this particular blog thread has become the victim of what I choose to call the Shoah-tunes effect. Who knew that so many cast members could be fans of WEW?

    @ Dame Maureen: I need a lyricist for my new West End smash, “RaPUNzel”. Are you by any chance available?

  35. Dame Maureen Armfeldt-Schmarmfeldt Says:

    @ Sir Andrew

    The shills are certainly alive with the sound of this music.

    For the rest, have your people contact my people. I may be able to let down an air or or two for your new musical.

  36. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Let down musicals are my forte: my people will contact your people as soon as we’ve won Eurovision.

  37. gazdemon Says:

    You seem to ignore the fact that it is set in the 1800s, when this side of life was repressed and adults were completely ignorant. Get a clue!

  38. Phil Says:

    Oh Lord I wish it would die…

  39. Dear Sir Andrew

    Having now seen this piece may i suggest “The Bitch of Living” to be out next entry for Eurovision?


  40. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    @ Andrew – You may suggest it: I couldn’t possibly comment…

  41. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    By @ Andrew – I of course meant @ makingplans4nigel…

  42. Nina Saville Says:

    Though I do not agree with you I love your witty review. Whingers you make fabulous reading and oft more entertaining than the plays or musicals!

  43. Jumbella Chambers Says:

    49 years of age and loved it.

  44. Madeleine Lily Says:

    Personally I thought it was incredible. Seen it twice already (and am still booking more tickets). Maybe it IS for teenagers but is that such a bad thing – after all there are heaps of musicals aimed at kids we deserve a bit of teenage angst. Plus the row of 60 year old women behind my friends and I who were all in hysterics at My Junk may tell you something?…

  45. Morgan Says:

    Oh, God, THANK YOU–I saw this last night and had exactly the same reaction. I can’t imagine how it got such great reviews. Rabbitinahat (hilarious post–Frodo Baggins and Hermione Granger, indeed), the same claque of drama school friends was there last night; the rest of the audience applauded politely while they shrieked and almost threw flowers on the stage. hannah, I agree with you about the chair, but too “American”? At least in the Broadway production they could actually sing (I’ve heard the CD).

    On the plus side, the bar was nice and empty at the interval.

  46. JKH Says:

    What can I say about Spring Awakening?
    1: Summer is not purple. It is either red, blue, yellow or (here in England) grey.
    2: It is one of the shows which forbidden broadway do better than the original (unzipping his fly and pulling a microphone out, Melchior and Wendla finding out they have the same mother, who is also a piano teacher and frau stupidname)
    3: i tried to strangle myself after the rock concert rendition of ‘mama I’m bored now’. Well,that is a better title…

  47. Luke Says:

    I’m 18 year olds, so naturally I enjoyed it.
    I can’t believe I wrote that. I’m with JKH on that ‘Mama I’m bored now’ gag, and am ready to link to a very interesting blog i found reviewing the show (albeit the Broadway rendition I think)

    Note the tags.
    I will now conclude by finding my brother’s (he’s 16) CD of Spring Away-kening and beating it to death with my house. I’ll find a way.

  48. JR Says:

    Belatedly–saw it off-Broadway and it was HORRIBLE, except for the music. The cast seemed to believe it was doing “very important” work. Would have left during intermission but it was a date and only found out later he hated it, too.

  49. Haylen Says:

    I personally love the show!!! Best musical in the west end, shame it left early…
    ***** Five stars. Plus!

  50. What’s up colleagues, good post and fastidious arguments commented here, I am really enjoying by these.

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