‘It soars in its second half’: HAIR THE MUSICAL – Touring ★★★★

In Musicals, Opinion, Regional theatre, Reviews, Scotland, Touring by Thom DibdinLeave a Comment

Touring – reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse

Over 50 years on and the Age of Aquarius is still providing a relevant, controversial (in parts) and – eventually – thunderously entertaining piece of musical theatre in Hair.

Kicking off at a high pace, the hot visuals and musical dexterity from the on-stage band mask a meandering first half which, for all its enthusiasm, gets too caught up in a distinctly non-hippy series of plots about who loves whom. Don’t be tempted to leave at the interval, though. It soars in its second half.

Hair was created from a series of songs and sketches about the sixties hippy peace movement, so the lack of focus to the opening half hour or so is understandable. There’s lots of references to free love, smoking dope and generally breaking the rules as the members of the hippy tribe introduce themselves. At lengths which are commensurate with their egos.

Chief among these is Berger, played with an outrageous strut by Jake Quickenden – who is happy to spread the love into the front row of the audience. Everyone, it seems, loves him – almost as much as he loves himself.

Then there’s Hud, given a strong and thoroughly commanding presence by Marcus Collins, whose plain speaking of slang names for people of colour in ‘Colored Spade’ is is indicative of the show’s political significance beyond the peace movement.

Daisy Wood-Davis is on the money as the tribe’s Joan of Arc figure, Sheila. She leads from the front in the march against war – however strange her beliefs might be – but would go to the stake for Berger.

All three earn their places on stage well beyond any concerns of celebrity casting. But this is very much an ensemble piece, with the 14 strong cast providing a constant presence on stage, and breaking off from their roles as members of the tribe to bring in other characters.

Aiesha Pease has a huge voice as Dionne and Tom Bales kills it as tourist Margaret Mead, come to get her picture taken with the hippies.

But wherever a powerful voice is needed you will find Natalie Green, as Cassie. She has a fantastic purity to the top of her range but can drop down and belt with the best of them. Her scenes with Paul Wilkins as Manchester-born Claude, playing his mother against Collins as his dad, are splendid pieces of staging, too.

Yet, for all its sense of purpose, the first half probably doesn’t work as it once did. Partly because the lines which reference a depth of knowledge of the 1960s scene, and surely endeared it to its 1960s audiences, don’t carry the same resonance today.

Even the notorious nudity at the end of half feels feeble and somewhat twee. It’s hardly a statement, tucked away behind lights, and it certainly is not celebratory in the way it might be. You have to ask yourself “why?”. Not just for the disrobing, but the whole production.

Focus

The answer comes in the second half, when Claude’s draft-dodging escapades and pretences to burn his draft card come into focus as part of the show’s general anti-war vibe.

Natalie Green and cast. Pic Johan Persson.

And the whole thing takes off properly when Berger hands Claude a pencil thin spliff, the band drop into some sparse funk and it begins to take on a distinctly psychedelic edge with Walking in Space.

At first this simply seems like a cleverly created stage representation of being stoned – thanks to great lighting from from Ben M Rogers, and hugely effective physical choreography from William Whelton under Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction.

But with a big throb of bass it takes on a distinctly heavy vibe. This is certainly a trip and the visuals just get better and better – but as Claude hallucinates his way back into the history of American oppression and we see the not-so great side of the founding fathers, it is a trip that gives the whole show a thoroughly political edge.

The pre-curtain opening scene with voice clips from American presidents, from Trump going back, feels a lot more coherent. It is not just a trendy and slightly clever conceit, but one which runs right through the piece up until its end, as Claude gets his wish to be the invisible man.

Originally created for Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre, this production might have lost some of its intimacy as it has been scaled up for bigger stages.

But a tight, on-stage band under MD Gareth Bretherton (who has truly funked-up the bass attack of the show) and big performances from all the cast, ensure that when it needs to get high, this production knows how to inhale.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA. Phone booking: 0844 871 3014.
Monday 17 – Saturday 22 June 2019
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinee Weds, Sat: 2.30pm. 
Tickets and details: Book here.

Hair on tour 2019:

Mon 17 – Sat 22 Jun 2019
Edinburgh 
Playhouse
0844 871 3014
Book online

Mon 24 – Sat 29 Jun 2019
Oxford 
New Theatre
0844 871 3020
Book online

Mon 1 – Sat 6 July 2019
Sheffield 
Lyceum Theatre
0114 249 6000
Book online

Mon 8 – Sat 13 Jul 2019
Brighton 
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7650
Book online

Mon 15 – Sat 20 Jul 2019
Milton Keynes 
Milton Keynes Theatre
0844 871 7652
Book online

Mon 23 – Sat 27 Jul 2019
Wolverhampton 
Grand Theatre
01902 42 92 12
Book online

Wed 7 – Sat 8 Aug 2019
Glasgow
King’s Theatre
0844 871 7648
Book online

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ENDS

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Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.
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Thom Dibdin on FacebookThom Dibdin on RssThom Dibdin on Twitter
Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.

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