Julia Chapman speaks to Spring Awakening Director Ben Plumb and Producer William Hockedy about the sexually-charged nineteenth-century rock musical phenomenon.
The Bubble: Why have you decided to put on Spring Awakening?
Ben Plumb (Director): Selecting a musical was a long process and we went through several possibilities but Spring Awakening was by far the strongest. I knew very little of it until it was suggested but after some research it became apparent that this show was just oozing cool! The hard-hitting themes were quite a draw as well, not to mention the enormous but quite obviously rewarding challenge that it posed.
William Hockedy (Producer): Even though it is only six years old, Spring Awakening has become renowned within theatre circles for being an incredibly emotional and powerful musical, and we thought that the challenges we would face in putting it on would pale in comparison to the rewards of staging such a show. Everybody that I’ve talked to has told me how much they enjoy the show, and we feel that it would be an honour to put on such a show in Durham.
TB: Can you account for a common opinion that Spring Awakening is a gratuitously sexual show frenetically representing every problem any youth has ever experienced?
BP: I think the comment does have an element of truth to it. The themes are universal to an extent. There will always be tension between teenagers and their adult counterparts, especially concerning sex. However, I think the nineteenth century setting allows the points to be made in a much more vivid way. Further to this, the characters are wonderfully nuanced and this makes the show and its approach to the themes highly unique.
However, on the point of gratuitous sexuality, I disagree. Any show with any amount of sex in it could be made gratuitous but I don’t think Spring Awakening is necessarily like this. It is most definitely sexual but without its frank portrayal of sex and all its facets, the point of the show would be lost. The graphic nature of it is essential for the audience’s engagement with the characters emotions.
WH: Yes, Spring Awakening is certainly a sexual show, we have never denied that, and it certainly portrays many of the issues that youths face. However, I feel strongly that it doesn’t try to be gratuitous in any way, the issues are covered sensitively and could easily be seen as more a show concerning issues that and youth could face, not the issues that all youths face. All of the scenes which could be seen as overly gratuitous are absolutely justified by the story, they exist to forward the plot, not to be attention grabbers or to court unwanted controversy.
TB: Without giving too much away, how have you dealt with the sexual content of the show?
BP: It was a very tricky affair! We didn’t want to hold back; the honesty and realism was very important to us. However, there was the looming fear that it could end up being unnecessarily sexual and gratuitous as discussed above. Suffice it to say we have got all the bases covered…
WH: Again, we have most definitely focused our attention on the emotional background of the scenes, rather than on sensationalist headline-grabbing scenes. That said, however, the scenes in question do make you wonder whether they’re real or not, due almost entirely to our fantastic cast and their dedication to the show. It would be so easy to give a half-hearted effort, but thanks to their absolute conviction, the scenes are both sexual and sensual, certainly one of the emotional high points of the show, yet also genre-defining and not to be missed!
TB: Who is your favourite character and why?
BP: My favourite character is Moritz. One of the most exciting aspects of this show, at least from a directorial stand-point, is the juxtaposition between the very emotionally oppressive nineteenth century German society, and quite frankly awesome, twenty-first century alternative rock. Nobody epitomises this distinction better than Moritz. On the surface he is an extremely neurotic and intense person, but his inner life, as demonstrated by his excessively cool vocal parts, is utterly electric. Karim Mariey, who is playing Moritz, has really taken this to heart and the end result is quite spectacular!
WH: I think that Moritz is certainly the most intense and complicated character in the show, but I feel that the performance given by Wendla (Lottie Rugeroni) is one of absolute conviction and completely genuine, you can almost see her as an innocent youth discovering a whole new world of sexuality and, ultimately, love.
TB: What makes this particular production of Spring Awakening stand out?
BP: There are a number of things really. Firstly, we have taken a very different approach to the staging, wholly embracing the ‘rock concert’ connotations inherent in the show. Also, there is our cast. The Broadway and West End version of Spring Awakening really set the tone for characterisation but I think our cast has done its own thing, giving our production a completely different vibe. Also, the choreography style is vastly different. Our choreographer, Harry Page, has taken a really diverse approach that matches the wonderfully varied emotions communicated in the songs.
WH: We decided to play around with the audiences’ minds a lot in our staging of Spring Awakening. Perhaps most obviously, we have flipped around the stage in our venue so that we are performing on a thrust stage, with the audience on three sides of the acting. The differentiation of the bleak, dark nineteenth-century Germany and the blaring lights and sounds of the alt-rock song world is breathtaking. This unusual staging is most apparent at the climax of the first act, when the famous sex scenes takes place right in the centre of the audience. When you have a couple in the midst of their passion only a few feet away from you can’t help but become emotionally involved.
TB: Why should audiences see Spring Awakening?
BP: There are a number of reasons, a good few of which I think I have indicated already. Beyond that, because I am yet to meet someone who knows the show that doesn’t love it! The ultra-modern approach to a contentious, sex-fuelled German classic makes for something truly tantalising and if that wasn’t enough the soundtrack is stunning. The balance between alternative rock and classical musical has been found.
WH: Spring Awakening has it all: humour, emotion, sex, incredible characterisation, catchy songs and much more. The energy of this show is incredible, you can’t help but tap your feet during the rocking songs and hang on to every word of the fantastic acting, you get to know these characters so much in the space of only two and a half hours. Everybody I’ve met loves this show, the cast loves this show, and we’re sure that the audience will love it as well. It’s a hard hitting but enjoyable show that will amuse, entertain, educate and challenge the mind, and you’ll leave the show wishing you could see it all again!
Spring Awakening is playing at Fountains Hall, Grey College, from June 19th-21st. Tickets are available here.