THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH – 27 APRIL 2019 & Tour
HAIR – THE MUSICAL
RUNNING TIME 2 HOURS AND 30 MINUTES – 1 interval
Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office – 01752 267222
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 23 APRIL 2019
As a child of the 1960s, I became aware of the musical ‘Hair’ from a young age and, although, I was unaware of its full content till much later, the very impact of the piece was very widespread. Now, 50 years after the premiere in New York, this production from The Hope Mill Theatre is touring the UK. It is a strange piece and a rather odd experience.
Set in the crucible that was the Vietnam War and the 60s Hippie culture, the musical showcases all elements of that world which sets it so far apart from times before or since. The language used and the exploits lauded can still make one sit up and think and, maybe gasp; it may well have been ahead of its time.
So, this production directed by Jonathan O’Boyle begins with audio footage of President Trump advocating war and destruction – an interesting counterpoint, but that is where any direct reference to modern times stop. With so much material to draw on I wonder if this might have been something of a cop out. Likewise, with environmental issues being campaigned about (Extinction Rebellion being very current) on a permanent basis, there is no cross referencing. A missed opportunity?
The ribbon strewn set, complete with tents and shelters which house the excellent five-piece band under the direction of Gareth Bretherton, is colourful and fun, but maybe a little too nice and clean for the setting – the costumes too are wonderfully freshly laundered. You almost want to smell the stink! The lighting is inventive and dazzling and on the nail.
There is a lot of singing – Act One alone contains 25 musical numbers and there is almost the same after the interval. This leaves little room for dialogue and so most of the, rather paper-thin plot, is told through the songs. A plea – can all those who have anything to do with sound in a show, allow the words to be heard? Too many times, it was impossible to hear them and when the narrative is carried in the singing, the audience need access. Frankly I despair sometimes, loud and very loud do not make the show any better.
The many references to the era and to American history will be lost on audiences who also won’t get the satire involved and this makes the show one which keeps the viewer at a distance. Likewise, the lack of development for most of the characters means there is little, if any, empathy or emotional connection with any of them. You can like them, but you never know them and, therefore, you don’t really care for them.
The musical became notorious for the ‘nude scene’ when the characters protest by removing their clothing. If it was really was as outrageous as the stories go, it is now a coy and insignificant moment, which, due to its brevity, barely registers.
The central role of Claude, the young man caught between his moral duty to conform and his inner desire to rebel is very well handled by Paul Wilkins who has more character to work on than most and his fine vocals make him stand out. Overshadowing proceedings, especially in the first half, is Berger, the most outrageous member of the tribe – played with relish by Jake Quickenden. He exudes charm and his impressive body and voice are given plenty of exposure. Another former X-Factor contestant, Marcus Collins also makes his mark as Berger’s sidekick Hud. I have seen Bradley Judge on stage several times in the last year, notably in ‘Pippin’ at the Southwark Playhouse and in a recent tour of ‘Salad Days’ – he must be a director’s dream – completely committed, sings and dances well and, as he shows here, in his great comic talents as Woof and Margaret Mead – a first-rate performance. Daisy Wood-Davis, as Sheila, has a very pure voice and makes full use of it in some of the more emotional parts of the score. It is difficult not to praise the singing of the whole company where Kelly Sweeney and Aiesha Pease really stand out.
The music by Galt McDermot (who passed away last December a day short of his 90th Birthday) is so strong with many memorable moments; ‘Aquarius’, ‘I Got Life’, ‘Good Morning Starshine’ – they stay with you for a considerable time and the finale of ‘Let the Sun Shine In’ is performed full-throttle with passion and a thump. The original concept and words of Gerome Ragni and James Rado are very well served by this company.
It is not easy to resist the enthusiasm and vigour with which the curtain call songs are performed and as members of the audience are bodily dragged on to the stage to dance, one feels seduced by the whole – and you are left wondering why!
HAIR is a musical which carries many pertinent messages today, but they are rather buried in this production – maybe it could have afforded to be more dangerous, more relevant.
Performed with enthusiasm and gusto, it is a curate’s egg of a show, but as a musical which bucked the trend and gave theatre a wake-up call, then it should be seen.
JEANIE – ALISON ARNOPP
GLOWY – TOM BALES
HUD – MARCUS COLLINS
CASSIE – KELLY SWEENEY
JACKSON – DAVID HEYWOOD
WOOF/MARGARET MEAD – BRADLEY JUDGE
DIONNE – AIESHA PEASE
BERGER – JAKE QUICKENDEN
HELENA – LAURA SILLETT
TAJH – SPIN
CRISSY – LOUISE FRANCIS
CLAUDE – PAUL WILKINS
SHEILA – DAISY WOOD -DAVIS
BOOK & LYRICS – GEROME RAGNI & JAMES RADO
MUSIC – GALT MCDERMOT
DIRECTOR – JONATHAN O’BOYLE
MUSICAL DIRECTOR – GARETH BRETHERTON
SET & COSTUME DESIGN – MAEVE BLACK
CHOREOGRAPHY – WILLIAM WHELTON
LIGHTING DESIGN – BEN M ROGERS
SOUND DESIGN – CALLUM ROBINSON