DramaMusicalReviewSouth East

Hairspray – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Reviewer: Dan English

Book: Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan

 Director: Paul Kerryson

 It’s a trip to the swinging sixties, and a chance to find your true self, as the heartwarmingly fun Hairspray hits Dartford’s Orchard Theatre as part of its UK tour.

The iconic musical follows the trials and tribulations of Tracy Turnblad (Katie Brace) who dreams of stardom on the dance floor. The production follows her story as she seeks acceptance for who she truly is against the volatile backdrop of 60s America, fraught with enrooted intolerance as society struggles to adapt to a modern way of thinking. This musical is as thought-provoking as it is charming, and this tour version captures the fun and frolics of those which came before it wonderfully.

As Tracy Turnblad, Katie Brace is superb, making her professional debut in this role. Brace’s silly, yet charming, delivery captures the character perfectly, and her enthusiasm is almost as big as her character’s hair. Brace is adept at singing, dancing and performing and as a result commands this performance throughout. This is a wonderful debut and sets Brace up for inevitable future success.

Norman Pace and Alex Bourne are Wilbur and Edna Turnblad respectively, and both are excel in their roles as Tracy’s unconventional parents. Bourne, as Edna, is tender yet fierce, and there is a tension within the character which is presented well, as she grapples with her own place in the world. Pace’s Wilbur, on the other hand, is , and it is just a shame that more is not made of his character as, when given a chance, Pace’s comic timing shines through.

Bernadette Bangura steps in as Motormouth Maybelle in place of Brenda Edwards, and Bangura looks at ease in this role, and threatens to steal the show. Bangura oozes soul and class in this delivery, and her introductory number is effortless. Bangura holds the stage well and is powerful in her performance, which sparks to life some of the piece’s ploddier exchanges.

The ensemble work tirelessly to bring to the life the heart of the performance. This is a large ensemble group and all are slick and determined in their delivery. The group work well with Drew McOnie’s demanding choreography, with the routines being strong throwbacks to the twist and shout vibes of the sixties. An honourable mention must go to Rebecca Jayne-Davies who plays the simple-minded but loyal sidekick to Tracy, Penny. From her first scatty entrance, Jayne-Davies makes the most of the opportunities she has to deliver both word and physical comedy, and her interactions with Brace work well to explore their genuinely sweet friendship.

Takis’ set and costume design immerse us into the time period, with the set in particular malleable enough to enable the big showpiece routines to take place without feeling squashed. The use of projection, particularly during the closing number of Act 1, is a strong choice and helps to capture the socio-political messages which infiltrate this work. The images feel desperately current, and go a long way to enhancing the emotional pull of an otherwise bouncy and fun piece.

Hairspray is a performance full of big hair, big humour and big heart. This is a polished production which still feels fresh and goes a long way to capturing the tensions in the world today. It is a heartwarming piece with toe-tapping songs delivered by a commanding cast.

Runs until Saturday 26 March then continues UK tour

A hearty hoot.

A hearty hoot

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