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Spring Awakening review at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester – ‘a vital revival’

Darragh Cowley and the cast of Spring Awakening at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester. Photo: Scott Ryalnder

When it first sprang up on Broadway 12 years ago, Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s angst-ridden, hormone-drenched rock musical about repressed 19th Century German teenagers quickly became a phenomenon, hoovering up awards and giving the form a jolt in the arm that remained unmatched until Hamilton got its shot in 2015.

Hope Mill’s savvy revival taps into its appeal perfectly. Luke Sheppard’s fluidly coordinated, persuasive production, which fits Gabriella Slade’s sumptuously realised, stiflingly oppressive classroom set like a glove and is enlivened by clever lighting touches by Nic Farman, won’t disappoint Spring Awakening’s ardent fans.

Many of the cast are making their stage debuts and their inexperience is detectable in early ensemble sections that – despite Tom Jackson Greaves’ distinctive choreography – are not quite as polished as they could be. But this is more than made up for by the zeal with which they attack their roles and the vitality that infuses the proceedings.

Gareth Bretherton’s unseen eight-piece band add muscle and – when required – delicacy to Sheik and Sater’s MOR folk-infused rock songs, with The Dark I Know Well, an angry scream of protest sung brilliantly by Seyi Omooba and Teleri Hughes as the abused Martha and Ilse, standing out in an Act I that lacks memorable tunes.

And despite the best efforts of the leads, it is the tragic trajectory of poor, doomed Moritz (convincingly played by Jabez Sykes) that provides the dramatic backbone, hammering home original playwright Frank Wedekind’s warnings about how we treat our young, a message still more powerful than 20 Twilights.

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Handsome, confidently staged revival of a vital musical still brimming with brio