Review of Hair at the Vaults Theatre London
Fifty years since the premiere of the musical Hair, the show is revived in a new production, directed by Jonathan O’Boyle. The show first opened in the West End in 1968, a day after the theatrical censorship laws were revoked. Taking the form of a rock musical, the show centres around a tribe of American hippies in the 1960s sexual revolution, with a heavy focus on race, sexuality and religion.
Within the Vaults, tin cans hang from the roof, the whole of which is covered with coloured ribbons. Earth and life masquerade throughout the welcome area and lead us into the performance space. Sounds are sharp; the pure, powerful quality of singing voices hold strong as they echo through the speakers and the harmonising melodies are stunningly emphatic.
Yet despite all this scenic colour, there’s an urging tediousness which drags throughout the show. Characters slowly introduce themselves through a narrative style of storytelling, but the show has not so much of a plot but is rather made up of a stream of free-flowing songs which sort of blur together. Then we see random moments of drama, or characters breaking out into reality, which becomes jarring to a non-plot based “narrative”.
Despite the show’s themes of revolution and conflict, both in the liberating choreography which gives the movement a stylised sense of freedom and in the context of the anti-Vietnam War protests, there is a painfully irreverent lack of protest. Fifty years ago, the end-of- act-one nudity might’ve been shocking, but nowadays it is far too tame. The actors strip their clothes, walk dramatically upstage, with a rising light on their naked bodies once they’ve turned around, but there’s no shock to it; nor sense of rebellion. When taking drugs, we’re watching a group of actors pretending to be high; it completely lacks in the risqué nature which made it such a controversial landmark in the history of musical theatre.
The show doesn’t fit with the space, with its restrictive, rigid thrust that barely allows the performers to crowd among the audience. We’re invited to join the actors at the show’s finale in a reprise of ‘Let the Sun Shine In’, but without this interactivity used as the main medium of the whole production, it feels a little too late. The show is crying out to be made immersive. It’s begging to thrust itself in your face but fails to do so in what the director has referred to in the programme as an ‘intimate’ production. Cast and creatives claim the show is as relevant now as it was in the 1960s because the struggles that existed then still exist today; for example, regarding race, gender inequality and sexuality. But these issues aren’t the same as they were, and revising a show that was written to tackle these issues fifty years ago doesn’t produce the same political effect; particularly with regards to female quality, in a show which spotlights the development of the male characters whilst the women’s solo songs are often lost in the space.
Performances are enthusiastically delivered amongst the ensemble, with Andy Coxon and Shekinah McFarlane (as Berger and Dionne, respectively) as particular standouts, with Coxon’s whimsical embodiment and McFarlane’s powerhouse of a vocal performance. Yet despite these performances, it’s a struggle to justify the revising of the show, in a production which lacks the raw energy of the rock musical genre and essentially strips the naked qualities of the music, with renditions which sound almost so perfect that they lose the hardcore edginess which the musical so craves.
Review Joseph Winer
HAIR transfers to London in Autumn 2017 celebrating its 50th anniversary year! The acclaimed Hope Mill Theatre’s production of the iconic tribal rock musical directed by Jonathan O’Boyle, transfers to London’s fully immersive Off-West-End theatre, The Vaults.
This thrilling, young and moving production of HAIR created a huge buzz in Manchester when it opened at the award-winning Hope Mill Theatre, and was nominated for the MEN City Life Award (Best Theatre Production).
Like a mini Woodstock, from the moment the audience arrive, The Vaults is transformed into a fully immersive 60s venue, with psychedelic, innovative creatives and hippie flower power, 60s themed drinks and snacks – everything needed for a legal high. The audience then move through to the seated theatre space for HAIR – the musical that changed the face of the modern musical.
This transfer of HAIR is produced by Aria Entertainment, Senbla and Hope Mill Theatre.
COME JOIN THE TRIBE AND LET THE SUNSHINE IN.
HAIR THE MUSICAL
Booking Period: 4th October – 3rd December 2017
Suitable for ages 14+