Back in 1968, a “tribal love-rock” musical inspired by a peaceful demonstration against the Vietnam War made its debut on a Broadway stage. 50 years later and Hair has embarked on an anniversary UK tour, once more with a backdrop of dissent and disaffection on a global scale. But has this hippy trippy musical stood the test of time? We were invited to Press Night at the Alexandra Theatre to find out.
**We were invited to attend by the Alexandra Theatre, receiving complimentary tickets and a glass of red wine or two in exchange for an honest review. Thoughts – as always – are my own. And occasionally those of Mr Fletche**
From the moment the house lights go down, the audience is immersed in a sensory overload. Coloured ribbons lightly flutter around the stage. A tie-die curtain emblazoned with peace messages separates the performers from the audience. Clouds of – well, who knows what – are pumped out into the auditorium, almost inviting the crowd to join in a drug-fuelled haze. The band – on-stage throughout and possibly the hardest working members of the cast – are scattered around the stage, part of the fabric-bedecked set. Sound, sights and smells set the scene.
I settle down, awaiting a break in the musical assault to get an idea of the plot. 24 hours later, I’m still trying to work out exactly what that plot was. We follow a group of youths, disaffected with the mainstream American way of life as they create their own tribe, where only peace, love and drugs matter. After being introduced to various members of the family – the “psychedelic teddy-bear” Berger, plant- and Mick-Jagger loving Woof, newspaper-reading Hud (who teaches us a whole lot of new words for “black people”) – we meet Claude. He’s received his draft card, and he’s torn between doing his duty for his country and embracing the peace-loving sexual revolution.
And as far as story goes… that’s pretty much it. There’s a lot of talk about burning draft cards. A lot of agonising between war and violence, and sex and drugs. Pretty much the whole of Act 2 is Claude’s (overlong) drug-induced hallucination. Skydiving. Native Americans. A roll call of US presidents and characters from Gone with the Wind. Witch doctors. Buddhist monks. Nuns. You seriously couldn’t make this stuff up.
What the show lacks in plot, it more than makes up for in energy, enthusiasm, creativity and performance. Set and costume designer Maeve Black has it spot on with beautifully simple creations and a kaleidoscope of colours, complemented perfectly by Ben Rogers’s wonderfully ethereal lighting.
And despite not having much plot to work with, the cast seem to be having the time of their lives. Jake Quickenden (Spot the X-Factor Alumni No 1) is acrobatic and charismatic and most people in the audience seem to have trouble taking their eyes off him. Largely because he casts off most of his clothes apart from a loincloth in the first number. This is well before the famously controversial nude scene at the end of the first act.
Paul Wilkins delivers anguish and torment as Claude Bukowski, and Bradley Judge is entertaining as Woof – he also has fun performing as Margaret Mead and “engaging” with a gentleman in the front row. Marcus Collins (Spot the X-Factor Alumni No 2) has a soulful voice and demonstrates an impressive range as Hud. The girls shine too, in particular Daisy Wood-Davis as political activist Sheila, Natalie Green as Cassie, Alison Arnopp as perpetually stoned Jeanie and the mesmerising Aiesha Peace as Dionne.
Hair is largely a sung-through musical and the band matches the energy and style of cast flawlessly. They have around 40 numbers to fly through, and the songs mostly segue nicely from one to another. It is something of an assault to the senses though, which some songs only being a verse and a chorus long. It feels a little like when you’d come home from town at 2am, pop on MTV and there would be some psychadelic montage of music videos, all running into each other with not much context.
I Got Life seems to be reprised many times in different guises. Because the songs are so short and snappy, not many have stuck in my head and I don’t feel like listening to the soundtrack would work without the crazy visuals. But the big hitters like Aquarius, Let the Sunshine In and Good Morning Starshine do stand the test of time.
We left the Alexandra Theatre somewhat bemused. I felt as if I’d arrived late at a party, where everyone else is already really drunk and find everything they say and do hilarious. I never quite got to that stage. Hair is joyous and trippy and infectious and designed to make the audience feel like they’re along for a crazy ride. Even if it doesn’t always make any sense.
Hair is in Birmingham at the Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 4th May 2019 and then continues touring the UK until August 2019. Tickets can be purchased here.