Some of the cast of Spring Awakening, a musical performing at the ADC from 9-13 May.Tungsten Tang with permission for Varsity

On the 9th of May, Spring Awakening: The Musical opens at the ADC. With an electrifying rock soundtrack that promises to stun its audiences, the show is a heart-wrenching exploration of what it means to live and love in a world which strives to keep you in the dark.

I’m sure we all remember the emotional struggles and existential curiosities which plagued our teenage years. Accepted as a difficult time for most, your adolescence raises dizzying questions about identity, romance, sex, and community. Now imagine an equally alienating adolescence, but without the internet to answer your questions, without the giddy advice of more experienced friends, without state-enforced sex education, or even the watchful eyes of parents and teachers who swore to keep you safe. This is the world of Spring Awakening, a coming-of-age musical set in 1891. It is based on the original German drama of the same name by Frank Wedekind, which, though written around 1890, only received its first performance in 1906, a clear sign of its perceived inflammatory nature.

Xander Pang and Isobel Guthrie rehearse for the show Paul Ashley with permission for Varsity

But what fuels this fear of the show? The story follows a group of teenagers who are blindly straddling the line between childhood and adulthood. Cursed by a lack of adult guidance, they hope to steer each other through the excitement and naivety of their pivotal years. But the tale is not one of youth empowerment and curious revelations; rather the opposite, it sings bitter-sweet melodies of loss and guilt, pregnancy, violence, trauma, and punishment. It explores the potentially devastating consequences of unjustly sheltering our youth beyond what is reasonable, criticising conservative approaches to sexual education along the way.

“The story follows a group of teenagers who are blindly straddling the line between childhood and adulthood”

As modern audiences gaze on at the entangled web of tragic individual and overlapping stories, hearing their laughter, ignorance, and pain, Wedekind’s criticisms seem all the more poignant today. To quote the co-directors, Mia Grant, and Manon Harvey: “Something about the exploration of sexual repression felt all too pertinent to everything that is going on at the minute, especially regarding dystopian developments in women’s and reproductive rights and the lack of inclusive sexual education for LGBTQ+ youth.”

Certainly, Spring Awakening promises to act as a frightening warning to some, a reminder for others, and a beautiful, thought-provoking piece of musical theatre for all. The enchanting work of set designer, Isabella Bottle, captures the show’s wistful ambiguity: both the magic of youthful nostalgia and the harrowing darkness looming over it.

A sneak-peak of the set in its model formIsabella Bottle with permission for Varsity

Bottle has created a captivating set to grace the ADC Stage, with an ever-changing canvas of shadows, projections, and moving fabrics that interacts with the internal and external worlds of the characters through a creative manipulation of mobility and malleability: “I was keen to play with the idea of shifting layers and experiences of time through the set’s mobility. When creating the digital animations for projection, I focused on how the set would interact with the characters as they sought to take control of their own surroundings. I made use of a model stage to explore the scale of these interactions, playing with depth of space and contemplating the balance of light and darkness.”

Bottle’s moving set is clearly a creation imbued with a life of its own. The shadow and projection work allows the characters to connect with a sometimes welcoming, sometimes hostile, space around them, as they attempt to discover what it truly means to chase knowledge in an unguided world.


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From speaking to Spring Awakening’s excited cast and production team, what struck me most was the immense sense of community already present amongst those working on the show, especially unusual for a Week Two show with so little time to rehearse. It is clear that the musical is so incredibly important to everyone involved, and the story has touched even those with the most wintry exteriors. To quote the directors, “it is rare that you do a show that has such power to generate laughter, tears, community, and love throughout the process of bringing it to life.”

Spring Awakening promises to be a show truly worth watching. A night for its audiences to embrace the power of feeling and knowledge in all their most elegant yet chilling forms, I wouldn’t want to miss it.

Spring Awakening: The Musical is playing at the ADC Theatre, from Tuesday 9th to Saturday 13th May, 7:45pm. Get your tickets here