It has been a strong feature in the last twenty years or more that the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera has introduced many new and innovative ideas and a few times it offered challenging work like Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures and it is totally fitting that in its 50th year it brought a controversial musical drama in Spring Awakening, a rock musical or more aptly a punk rock musical by Duncan Shiek and Stephen Sater in 2007 based on an 1891 German play of the same name by Frank Wedekind that was banned due to its portrayal of abuse, masturbation, cunnilingus, abortion, homosexuality, rape, sado-masochism and suicide.
What is so striking about this production from National Youth Musical Theatre, directed by John Donnelly is how many of those problems are still with us today and the stark production style with its savage punk interpretation links wonderfully a closed narrow 19th century world with a contemporary dysfunctional dystopian world floundering in not just social and financial recession but in some frightening moral maze.
The clash of cultures and clash of adults and young people is chillingly real and this cast, a young cast hammered home that point with the savage anthem in Act Two – Totally Fucked.
John Furlong and Philippa Alford created the cruel authoritarian hypocritical world and Vickey Howell and Adam Lawlor were strict bullying parents and James O’Sullivan was the cleric figurehead.
Musically the production was lacking as the script is in memorable songs but it is as cold and as emotional as a lot of contemporary opera. This may lessen its chances of winning this festival but many who experienced the piece will feel certain of its amazing and alarming qualities.
Denis Grindel as Hanschen and Rob Walsh as Ernst gave a memorable gay spin to The Word of Your Body.
Fiona Carty was excellent as Martha and she stilled the audience with her song of paternal abuse The Dark I Know Well. Ruairí O’Connor was a powerful, sympathetic Melchior and his love scene with Wendla was tender, shocking and aptly called I Believe. Yasmine Missauoi as the innocent Wendla was mesmerising and she brought tears to people eyes with the veracity of her total performance. Jonny Holden as the tortured and troubled Moritz seemed like a young Malcolm McClaren as edgy as any Sex Pistol and Kurt Cobain also came to mind.
The technical side of this production was totally amazing. This production will stay in my mind for a long time.
In his adjudication Tony Finnegan gave very little away, coyly saying it wasn’t the Gypsy Baron. He said it was proper theatre new theatre and theatre that had to be seen. He praised the chorus and principals and spoke about their incredible strength in a complex demanding show. He noted the technical achievement and described Yasmine Missaoui’s Wendla as all encompassing and a beautiful performance. Ruairí OConnor’s Melchior, he described as a difficult, complex tour de force.