Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
The facts of life come fast and hard in Andrew Panton’s expansive rendering of writer Steven Sater and composer Duncan Sheik’s 2006 musical reimagining of Frank Wedekind’s nineteenth century template for angst-ridden teen TV. As classroom radical Melchoir Gabor, his first love Wendla and the rest of the gang come of age with all the pains that go with it, a frighteningly familiar set of psychological scars are exposed. Sexual abuse, suicide and under-age pregnancy are all in the mix, brought to flesh and blood life by a mighty cast of 18 musical theatre students, with Ann Louise Ross and Barrie Hunter from Dundee Rep’s ensemble company playing assorted grown-ups with grotesque relish.
Played out on designer Kenneth MacLeod’s testosterone-charged gym hall set, when actors aren’t in a scene, they either sit on benches in single-sex rows like they’re at a school disco or else drape themselves across vaulting horses and desks as they lustily spy on every illicit liaison.
While the entire ensemble gives it their all vocally and physically throughout a series of beautifully choreographed scenarios, there are stand-outs from Max Alexander-Taylor as Melchoir Gabor, Sarah Michelle Kelly as Wendla and Ross Baxter as the troubled Moritz. The score, played under musical director Robert Wilkinson’s guidance by a string-led six-piece band of music students, at times possesses the breathless baroque gallop of the Arcade Fire.
Combining his roles as artistic director of Dundee Rep and head of musical theatre at the RCS for this co-production between the two institutions, director Andrew Panton has created a rites of passage to remember. As the entire cast look out during the show’s final moments, their innocence transformed into bittersweet experience, it’s as if they’re climbing ever higher, ready at last to take the leap for life itself.
The Herald, March 16th 2018