“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
Alice and Fiona have been living in Rotterdam for seven years. They were only supposed to be there for one. It’s nearly New Year’s Eve and Alice is composing an email, and redrafting it, and spell checking it, and redrafting it again. She is trying to come out to her parents as a lesbian. But just as she is about to press send, her partner Fi delivers some unexpected news. Fi is a man, has always been a man, just wants to “stop trying to be a woman”. He asks to be called Adrian, the name his parents would’ve given him if they’d known he was a boy when he was born. The two characters spiral on different journeys, Adrian coming to terms with his gender identity, with the violence of being misgendered and the possibilities of hormones and surgery. Meanwhile, Alice questions her sexuality all over again, as she begins the process of accepting Adrian, and herself.
Jon Brittain’s script is a weaving explosion, each scene launching into the next (also thanks to Donnacadh O’Briain’s energised direction). The relationships between our four characters are gradually revealed, connecting them in different and surprising ways.
The set, designed by Ellan Parry, shows a black and white Amsterdam, splattered with pink, vivid purple, neon light, even covered with blue balloons at one point in the play. It isn’t anything hugely exciting but it doesn’t need to be. It allows for the different places the play takes us to, to be created, and for the story to be told. The mirrored door, throwing light across the audience every time it is opened is particularly lovely. Cleverly, even the details of the set, with backlit gendered toilet signs above a bar, are a constant reminder of the weight of gender, and the way we perceive it, in society. The fireworks thrown out into the audience – or seemingly so – are a really effective moment of lighting design from Richard Williamson.
The play is punctuated by some incredibly powerful and emotional images, but it is also laced with humour, and the actors find the balance between these moments really well. In fact the cast is strong all round. Lucy Jane Parkinson has a brilliant presence onstage, humourous at first, strong to the point of near aggression, deeply vulnerable when Adrian phones his mum to come out to her for the first time. A vivid performance of need and strength. Bethan Cullinane’s Alice is wonderfully played. Still closeted and unable to let go, she meets the vibrant Lelani (Ellie Morris) who takes her to parties and smokes weed with her. There is so much humour and life in this journey, and it is delicately undercut by Alice’s own struggles with her sexuality, and her frequently cruel way of processing Adrian’s transition. Elijah W Harris takes a couple of scenes to become grounded in the role of Josh, but when he does he is immediately likeable, and the relationship between Josh and Adrian in particular, feels warm and genuine.
This is a play through which you will laugh and cry. It discusses gender, sexuality, family, love and Rotterdam, and is delivered by strong, honest performances from a talented cast.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
Photography courtesy I AM Marketing
Brighton Theatre Royal until 10th April then UK Tour continues