Director: Jonathan O’Boyle
Book / Lyrics: Gerome Ragni and James Rado
Music: Galt MacDermot
Reviewer: Helen Tope
It’s 1967 and the Hippie Movement is at its height. Young Americans, disappointed and disillusioned, are seeking a different path. Rather than live out the lives of their parents, they want to live freely, with no limits or expectations.
We meet a group of hippies, co-habiting under one roof. They introduce themselves: Berger (Jake Quickenden); Hud (Marcus Collins), Claude (Paul Wilkins) and Sheila (Daisy Wood-Davis). With their friends, they explore all the Hippie Movement has to offer. Their relationships are gloriously uncomplicated until Claude receives a draft notice from the US Army. The Vietnam War is burning, and it requires new recruits as a matter of urgency. As Claude struggles to make his decision, the songs paint a world that is now lost to us. Sung with unabashed enthusiasm, Aquarius, Good Morning Starshine and Let the Sun Shine In fill the auditorium with an unfiltered joy that we don’t often allow ourselves to feel.
The songs are performed by a relatively small cast, but the voices are put to good use, blending together with real skill. With X Factor alumni Quickenden and Collins, their ability to project is particularly impressive. Quickenden has great fun with the role of Berger – a blonde-haired, pansexual Uberbabe. He flirts shamelessly with the audience, and we find it near impossible to resist.
While the plot of Hair is not complicated, the aura is everything. This production brilliantly captures the headiness of the Sixties. The set design by Maeve Black – bold, sweeping waves of technicolour – is gorgeously seductive. While our senses are being teased, the music is quick to undercut the sensuality. With lyrics debating race, sexuality and the American Dream, this musical is no piece of self-indulgence. The bar is set far higher.
Celebrating its 50th year, the question is not whether Hair still has the power to shock (the sex and drug references now read as fun, rather than subversive). It’s whether this musical can still be relevant in the 21st Century.
The answer is unquestionably yes. This revival, operating in a political landscape of indictments, Twitter storms and fake news, is perfectly pitched to speak to those of us who are jaded and believe that there is nothing left to be done. Hair is far more than a hippie musical. It has anger, and plenty of it, targeted at a system that discourages freedom of thought. The musical argues that to live is to question. How we live, why we follow perceived wisdoms. What if life could be lived another way? With its emphasis on individual liberty, freedom of speech and respect for nature, Hair was not only progressive on its debut, but it continues to promote an ideal that resonates today. With the Extinction Rebellion campaigning for significant ecological change, Hair manages to place itself at the heart of the debate. Far from being a relic of the past, Hair reveals itself to be a contemporary musical of ideas – and there’s plenty more to be said.
Runs until Saturday 27 April 2019 | Image: Contributed