“each song and dance number is filled with unfathomable skill”
Sex, drugs, sex, psychedelic tabs, more sex and a rather peculiar UV Scene. Hair bounces into Brighton as part of its 50th anniversary tour.
Picture this, itʼs 1967 and a group of hippie youngsters are longing to change the world in which they find themselves. They question every aspect of authority and unite through protest and song, under the gloomy shadow of the Vietnam War.
The story of Hair jumps so sporadically from one character and story to another which confuses, leaving us little to no time to really form an emotional connection with each character and the threadbare storyline.
The cast is laden with TV celebrities. X-Factor Duo Jake Quickenden (modelling a rather revealing thong throughout) and Marcus Collins (as Hud) are both interesting talents. Both do well throughout but are underserved by the script and direction from Jonathan O’Boyle. Quickendenʼs energetic conversations with the audience are infectious and makes his Berger completely loveable; someone youʼd take home to your mum.
Vocally, Aiesha Pease, playing Dionne, and Daisy Wood-Davis, as Shelia, are simply stunning, both commanding the stage with pitch-perfect clarity. However beautiful harmonies and exceptional examples of physical theatre canʼt forgive the poor diction from most of the cast throughout the sub-par plot.
I have one big gripe about this production as a whole and thatʼs how it fairs in the current political climate. Although Hair tries all the tricks to appeal to our packed to the rafters Brighton audience but the lack of ‘shockingʼ content merely makes it a well-produced museum piece. With the director’s choice of implementing Trump speeches at the beginning, the show manages to say nothing new whilst remaining some-what relevant but this is cheap and easy. If you had put Erdogan or Putin speeches in place of Trump, or performed the show in Russia or Brunei for example, where homosexuality and nudity on stage is still illegal, then the impact would be colossal.
Putting the incoherent story aside, Hair, put simply, is a spectacle and an event. Once intended to shock and change laws, Hair unintentionally falls flat in its flamboyant charm. Although each song and dance number is filled with unfathomable skill, energy and wit the seemingly endless number of songs forces us to yearn for more of the thin narrative.
Reviewed by Nathan Collins
Photography by Johan Persson
Theatre Royal Brighton until 13th July then UK tour continues
“The writing avoids stereotypes and subverts expectations in surprising ways; it’s cleverly done”
There is something rather wonderful about watching a high quality musical in a small venue. The closeness to the actors and the sense of being almost surrounded by their glorious voices in an intimate space brings a sense of emotional involvement that is much harder to achieve in a large theatre. Fiver, written by Alex James Ellison and Tom Lees fills the space with vibrant energy and passion, taking the audience on a roller coaster ride as it charts the journey of an ordinary five pound note from pocket to wallet, through the hands of dozens of characters. The cast of five morph into a host of women and men, all linked by the fiver’s travels. There are some characters who appear as threads in the interwoven storylines, and many more who appear just once, maybe just for a minute, but still make an impact.
This is very much an ensemble piece, performed by a cast of five talented actors. Hiba Elchikhe, Luke Bayer, Aoife Clesham, Dan Buckley and Alex James Ellison make a great team, bouncing off each other’s energy and telling many human stories with heart, humour and compassion. The writing avoids stereotypes and subverts expectations in surprising ways; it’s cleverly done. Justin Williams’ well designed flexible set, and the lighting and sound design, by Alex Musgrave and Chris Taunton respectively, give the action a hugely varied physical context, beautifully supporting the storytelling.
The piece works well musically too. There were tears in the audience during the moving and achingly beautiful ‘You’ll be a man, my son’ which segued into a school scene that brought back memories of the effortless cruelty of children. The story of the letter, and the repeated refrain of ‘have you prayed tonight teacher?’ was intriguing and eventually chilling. There was also plenty of uproarious laughter throughout.
There was some confusion in the second act when the time line felt muddled. This was such a huge disconnect that it threw me out of the story for a while, as I tried to follow the logic. It’s a shame, as in the rest of the show the stories twined together with amazing coherence. This could be fixed by reorganising the scenes, and I hope Ellison and Lees consider doing so before the show has its next outing.
The ‘adventures’ of the humble fiver provide a framework on which Ellison and Lees have hung tales of love, loss, joy, sadness and what it’s like to be human. It’s a lovely piece.