Date 27th March 2015
Society Irving Stage Company
Venue Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
Type of Production Musical
Director Sian Couture
Musical Director Vicky Robson
Choreographer Sian Couture & Christine Glancy


Author: Julie Petrucci

Irving Stage Company’s production of HAIRSPRAY at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds provided an evening of scintillating entertainment.  

The story, based on John Waters' 1988 film is set in Baltimore in 1962 where Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, is on a mission to follow her dreams and dance her way onto national TV. Tracy's audition makes her a local star and soon she is using her new-found fame to fight for equality, bagging local heartthrob Link Larkin along the way.

Mark Shaiman's songs, with lyrics by him and Scott Wittman, evoke the music of the period - meant to invite dancing.   Director and Choreographer Sian Couture, assisted by Christine Glancy, skilfully put that to good use, giving the cast some ebullient sixties dance routines which certainly got the audience tapping their feet.  The expert band conducted by music director Vicky Robson were splendid although I did think the music overpowered the dialogue at times.

Costumer Jonathan Lodge provided lovely colourful sixties costumes including the bouffant skirts and swagger coats, and when the entire cast was on stage dancing the effect was great.  The overall effect of the costumes would not have worked however without all the wonderful period hairdos created by Eve and Marnie Randall and the West Suffolk College students.

The settings were good and slid on and off quickly and as unobtrusively as was possible.  I felt the lighting was a problem once or twice and I think some of the radio mics could have done with a bit of tweaking as it was sometimes hard to distinguish lyrics and the spoken word particularly in the school scene.

"Hairspray" requires good strong ensemble work and we certainly got it in full in this fast-paced production.  However, the show doesn't succeed unless the actress who plays Tracy is convincing. Happily, Nicola Platt-Nolan came up trumps.  She sang well and danced exuberantly. 

The role of Edna, Tracy's Mom, is customarily played by a man in drag.  Stephen Skrypec was superb. His Edna, was a strong, assured and plain-speaking woman.  His was also a very disciplined performance as never once was he temped to slip into panto dame mode.   "You're Timeless To Me," the duet between Edna and her beloved husband Wilbur was one of the high points of the show and had the audience calling for more.

And then there are the two villainesses: Corny's producer Velma played by Sally Boulter: I couldn’t fault her  characterisation of this dominating character, and Velma's selfish daughter Amber was played confidently and with obvious enjoyment by Lucy Allen.

Kira Davis as Motormouth who owns a rhythm and blues record shop, is something of a mother figure to all the kids. Toward the end of the second act, she sings "I Know Where I've Been" which for me was one of the best solos of the evening. Kira has a lovely voice.

Brian Carmack pitched his take on Corny Collins the glib, saccharine host of the rock show to perfection and, in the rather thankless role of Tracy's sidekick Penny, I thought Frances Gaul invested the character with plenty of awareness.  

Others worthy of mention Mattison Williams, with some good moves as Seaweed J Stubbs, Max Cunnell, completely believable as the girls’ heartthrob Link Larkin and Andy Cunnell who portrayed a lovely caring Wilbur.

Hairspray is a fun show and this cast threw themselves into it with great enthusiasm and energy it certainly energised the capacity audience.  Well done everyone involved in this absolutely super show.