Having censored theatre seems pretty archaic, lending itself to a time when Shakespeare was scripting his masterpieces and plague was decimating cities. And yet, just 50 years ago plays were still subject to strict rules and regulations.
Enter Hair. First performed in London the day after the Theatres Act 1843 was abolished, it aimed to shock and was a play protesting anything and everything. At the time, nudity on stage was almost unheard of, but freedom was interpreted literally. Not just freedom of speech, but freedom from clothing.
Today the musical seems a little bit random. There is no real storyline; instead it provides minimal information about a lot of characters who are vaguely related. It’s confusing, boring and feels very forced.
The cast itself are excellent: a bunch of strong singers, enthusiastic performers and good dancers. Tom Bales is particularly good as Margaret Mead and Paul Wilkins does well as Claude. The likes of Let the Sunshine and Aquarius remain popular songs today, while Easy to Be Hard (sung by Daisy Wood-Davis) is a nice ballad.
Black Boys / White Boys is quite amusing but other songs feel slightly awkward in today’s society, but the shock factor no longer exists. Having the musicians in costume on stage is a nice touch that works well with the theme.
Yet even this talented group of people cannot save this show from itself. A hippy commune, with free love, drugs and resistance. Scenery and costumes are quirky (and Bethany Addington’s wigs are fab), while the lighting from Tom Murton adds drama and even psychedelic touches.
And of course there’s nudity. Just a few minutes in, one character removes his trousers and before the interval we are given a delightful vista of each cast member. Starkers. It’s tastefully done, but is a bit unnecessary.
Those who remember this production from the 1960s may find it awakens their nostalgia for a better time, but unfortunately this classic musical just fails to impress.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Johan Persson
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