The boys pogo against classroom repression in Spring Awakening. Photo by Tristram Kenton
Musical lovers will have already read the hype surrounding new musical, Spring Awakening. It's "groundbreaking", it's a "must-see", it's an award-winner (eight Tonys on Broadway), it's "breathtakingly, amazingly brilliant..."
Based on Frank Wedekind's (once banned) 1891 German expressionist play, Spring Awakening is about "personal discovery and sexual awakening". The original features teen sex, S&M, homosexuality, masturbation, abuse, suicide and abortion. In the new show, these themes (hardly crying out for the musical treatment, surely?) have retained their 19th-century setting, and had some brilliant protest rock songs woven around them.
It sounds incongruous, but somehow it works.
As we overheard some Bright Spark quip during the interval, it's like a "19th-century Skins."
We'd go further: it's a 19th-century Skins with Joy Division dancing, two-dimensional adults, a beautiful school-gym set, and a slightly over-heavy dose of emo. With a worrying slice of reality missing, considering the seriousness of some of the issues tackled.
So, if you're over 17, aren't into teenage angst, or you don't like Skins, you can look away now.
The predominantly young cast, (an astonishing number making professional theatre debuts), are breathtaking. Charlotte Wakefield (Wendla) looks just like Emma Watson, and plays a naively doomed Hermione with amazing self-confidence and a beautiful singing voice.
Equally talented are the rather gorgeous Aneurin Barnard, who plays top-of-the-class Melchoir, and Iwan Rheon as his troubled friend Moritz.
But the show, for all its soaring emotions, its great angst-ridden pop-rock, and its touching-perfect cast, raises more questions than it answers. And here we'll put in a ***spoiler alert***.
Can we "go" with a show where the gorgeous young lead pretty much single-handedly causes the deaths of his two mates? And seems OK with that at the end? Where a girl sings, very movingly, about being abused, and then said abuse is not mentioned again? Are we happy recommending a musical where the lyrics of the main "number" are:
Blah, blah, blah-blah, blah-blah, blah- blah
Blah, blah, blah-blah, blah
Why the Vogue-dancing? Why is part of the audience on stage? Why are all the adults cartoons? Why are all the boys in the reform school Northern?
And, when the tragedy is over, is it ever OK to end the show with such a terrible, saccharine piece of nonsense as "The Song of Purple Summer"?
But perhaps we're being unkind. Adolescence is, after all, a pretty mixed bag. And for every brilliant moment when you pogoed about to songs that sounded just like "Totally F***ed" and "The Bitch Of Living", there must have been days when you lay around diary-writing about wanting to "fondle the pearl of your distant dreams" while listening to some distinctly average ballads, right?
After all, this new musical is pulling crowds of teenagers into the theatre. (And some of them are boys! And some of them are straight!) And we think it's going to launch the careers of some truly brilliant young stars. Which means Spring Awakening (while both fantastic and flawed) has got to be A. Good. Thing.
Spring Awakening is booking at the Novello Theatre until 31 October. Box Office 0844 482 5171. Tickets from £10.