5th June 2019
The Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton
Type of Production
Author: Martin Holtom
Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, is a product of the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the late 1960s with several of its songs becoming anthems of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement. It was this anti-war theme that Beth Yearsley and her talented cast and backstage team focussed on in this production which soared from the ‘free love’ classics such as Aquarius, Hair and Good Morning Starshire to the tragic Ain’t got no and a whole new interpretation (to me) of The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In) which had many member of the audience in tears through it’s power and clarity of message - WAR IS HELL.
This was the first time that I have seen a theatre production of Hair and I was not sure what to expect. What the Cast delivered was quite exceptional. It was more akin to an assault on the senses than a classic linear musical and all the better for that. From the moment you entered the auditorium this was a true multi sense experience. First you were hit by a ‘wall’ of incense, next the cast sauntered onto the stage and the lights dimmed to reveal unfiltered footage from the front line of the Vietnam War seen from both an American and Vietnamese perspective as napalm and phosphorous shells rained indiscriminately into the jungle to a soaring ‘dirty’ guitar rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
The action then just exploded into the highest of high energy performances from the truly ensemble cast with amazing choreography throughout the night from Sian Scattergood and the on stage band led with great skill and dynamic range in sympathy with the vocals by James Bowden with faultless sound balance from Dave Dallard and amazing costumes provided to cast, band and crew by Mina Machin.
As the strength of the production was in its ensemble delivery by the New York Tribe it is hard to single out any particular performances over any others but it would be wrong of me not to call out a few highlights. Andrew Buxton was mesmeric as the charismatic, occasionally bare arsed, Berger, the centre of the ‘Tribe’. Andrew effortlessly drove the central core of the action alongside Cat Tuckey as Sheila, who has never been in better voice or better understanding of her character. Daniel Collington simply shone as Claude Hooper Bukowski the most conflicted member of the Tribe. Claude is at the heart of the mutual 3 way love triangle with Berger and Sheila but increasingly unable to cope with bohemian lifestyle of uncertainty just living from one day to the next. Unable to burn his draft card this leads to his inevitable death in a heart wrenching finale to the show that was so simply staged - sheer genius from director Beth Yearsley.
Alongside the central trio there were brilliant cameos from Emily May Corner (Chrissy), George Lamb (Woof), especially in the understated?! Sodomy, Katie Macdonald (Jeanie) with and without gas mask, Candice Shevaun Curnow (Dionne), Sascha Cornelius (Ronny), Rob Chilton (Margaret Mead) – you needed to have been there for that to make sense and Matthew Charlton (Hubert/Steve). The ensemble was completed with strong supporting performances by Cheryl Camm, Claire Farrand-Preston, Gemma Ryan, Michelle Bruce (the most amazing Tibetan monk I have seen), Rachael Bragg and Stephanie Wright who led many of the dance breaks and who’s energy, athleticism and professionalism in execution was something to behold.
So, an assault on the senses, as trippy as the hallucination that dominates the start of Act 2, but clearly underpinned by a vision, drilled to perfection, and embraced by every member of the Cast.
Beth, Sian, James, Rob, Dave D, Dave M take a bow.