All That's Known: What's the critics' verdict on the Almeida's Spring Awakening?
The eagerly awaited revival is now officially open
Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage
"The mood is dark in this long-postponed version of Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik's multi-award winning musical about the chaos, confusion and agony of adolescence. But the production is a triumph, a piercing beam of light into the way that the adult world simultaneously ignores and suppresses young people."
"It's based on a play written in 1891, and its lurches into melodrama can be blamed on Frank Wedekind's original. But Greta Thunberg – "you have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words" – is quoted in the programme, and the themes of the piece speak with loud contemporary clarity in this virtuosic staging directed by Rupert Goold with force and steely brilliance."
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out
"I was blown away by the Almeida's revival of Spring Awakening which made it all the way to press night against pretty steep odds. Indeed, at time of writing, it would appear to have gone further than that, which is not bad at all for a musical with a cast of 17 – plus band – at the height of a covid surge that has shut numerous other London theatres.
To be upfront, I missed Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's musical the first time around. One of my first memories of moving to London is seeing posters for the original production everywhere, but unfortunately it had just closed – famously it struggled in the West End, despite ecstatic UK reviews and blockbuster success in the States. So really I'm more talking here about my first flush of love for Spring Awakening than offering up any sort of useful contrast between productions. But if the original was better than Rupert Goold's newie then it must have been bloody incredible."
Fiona Mountford, The i
"Almeida directors are the sizzling-hot ticket when it comes to musicals. Almeida associate Rebecca Frecknall is behind the sumptuously immersive West End revival of Cabaret and, not to be outdone, the theatre's artistic director Rupert Goold now mounts an exquisite revival of this Tony and Olivier Award-winning show that is woven tightly with lust, longing and loneliness."
"They [Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik] have concocted a piece that throbs with passion and ingenuity, culminating in the show's stand-out number, "Totally F**ked". The explosion of anarchic energy and pent-up frustration with which Goold and choreographer Lynne Page present this song made it my single most thrilling theatrical moment of 2021."
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
"Boldly setting the action on a steep bank of steps (Miriam Buether designs), he [director Rupert Goold] and choreographer Lynne Page, with the assistance of video designer Finn Ross, create a gloomy, surreal, volatile milieu. Moments of despondent and melancholy calm give way to inspiring outbreaks of agile energetic activity. The boys first spring into view like jack-in-the-boxes, arranged in a vertical line for their emotionally and physically abusive Latin tutelage; later they bound about in fleet motions of fledgling machismo.
Their tightly drilled movement catches the comic embarrassment of dawning libidinal urges – there are synchronised, slow-rising buttocks and erratically violent pelvic jerks. But the evening also taps the quiet tenderness at the show's heart."
Alice Saville, Evening Standard
"There's the odd fun number – the Green Day-style "Totally F***ed" has an infectious joy here – but this production can feel too tightly choreographed to bring out the gutsy rock and roll energy of Duncan Sheik's music. But if it never breaks out like a teenager's spotty face, there's serious power here. Melchior claims to care about social equality but it's painfully clear that his sexual interest in Wendla is a selfish one: she's left devastated by it, finally finding the pain her sheltered upbringing has been missing.
"Perhaps Spring Awakening originally struck more of a chord with Broadway audiences because the repressive world it depicts is closer to the high-pressure world of American high schools than more permissive British secondaries. But as Covid restrictions force us all further apart, its rich atmosphere of longing feels powerfully current. It's as soft and heartbreaking as an overheard sob in the night."
Natasha Tripney, The Stage
"Rupert Goold's revival captures this hunger, this sense of yearning. The characters, costumed by Nicky Gillibrand in a mixture of vaguely European pinafores and jackets with skewed school-ties, leggings and ripped jeans, thrust and lounge around Miriam Buether's brooding stepped set, a mix of classroom blackboard and a teenage goth's bedroom, the surfaces chalked with graffiti – including an eggplant emoji.
"Laurie Kynaston plays the superficially confident Melchior, who embarks on a tentative relationship with the buttoned-up Wendla (Amara Okereke, getting a chance to demonstrate her considerable vocal skill), who has been kept in a prison of ignorance by her mother, ostensibly for her own protection."
Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
"It is audacious of Rupert Goold to stage a flamboyantly morose alt-rock musical about teenage repression and rebellion for a Christmas show. Based on Frank Wedekind's 1891 play – banned or censored across the ages – it does not have many fuzzy edges and its staging now feels more refreshing for it."
"More of an orchestration than an emotionally enveloping drama, the plot between Melchior and Wendla does build power in the second half, and the production has some striking moments, such as Melchior's atmospheric number "The Bitch of Living", about desire and anxiety, and a masturbation fantasy excellently performed by Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea as Hänschen. The performances are all striking and the leads seem on their way to becoming tomorrow's stars."
Clive Davis, The Times
"Here's a minor mystery. Why has Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik's ponderous musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind's play about adolescent angst won so much praise since it opened on Broadway 15 years ago? Is it due to the show's novelty value? Here are characters from the repressed 19th century belting out unbuttoned rock anthems. Or is it because self-consciously "dark" subjects — from masturbation to suicide, abortion to thrashed buttocks — are deemed to be more profound than musical theatre's usual fare? Are middle-aged reviewers simply desperate to get down with the kids?
"The one reason to see Rupert Goold's revival is to soak up some of the energy pouring from an eager young cast. As with that cult teen musical Be More Chill (which had a well-deserved West End run earlier this year) the rough edges add a sense of heart-on-sleeve passion."