Theatre in Wales

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The dawning of the age of Aquarius

Hair

Michael-Butler , New Theatre cardiff , April-15-19
Hair by Michael-Butler “This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius”, thus declared in the opening song of this icon of musical theatre. Hair, now over 50 years after making its impact on stage is best remembered through it’s pristine songs, made famous by the likes of Nina Simone and in more recent years through club remixes. But does this Summer of Love still make us swoon all these years later?

At the show’s starts, a twist is the inter joining of late 60’s news reports with that of contemporary Trump anecdotes and media coverage, (as the entire theatre quakes with primal sound design). We may not really need this in many respects, though today’s social justice movement may claim heritage in their Hippy parents and grandparents demonstrations. Today’s politics has become such a vacuum and deeply derivative, that the narrative seen in Hair’s era may appear even more justifiably tense, helping to unravel the freedoms and rights being acquired by young people of the time. Yet, all is well when we hear Aquarius, one of the shows most recognisable sections, a beacon for cosmic wisdom and striving for a peaceful mankind.

The show is not without its flaws (how much shock factor has changed since then) and it is mostly aimed at the paper thin story, which borders on the non-existent. This matters little when the themes are so vital and the songs are at a premium like this, the inspired work of composer Galt MacDermot and writers James Rado and Gerome Ragni. Few pieces capture the time it was written like Hair, the songs are a blaze of glory, covering several musical genres with ease. The lyrics as well are also inspired, even when they just borrow some Shakespeare or some of Abe Lincoln’s speeches to great effect. From this collection of jewels, one would consider Aquarius, Frank Mills, My Conviction, Good Morning Starshine, Where Do I Go? and the gut punching entire finale as personal favourites.

The set by Maeve Black is expectedly colourful, as if the entire stage is inside a giant piñata. Director Jonathan O’Boyle makes the most with the story, though has some tricks and charms during the series of songs. Costumes also by Black feel like the genuine article, as if plucked from the time via time machine. The choreography of William Whelton is perfectly funky, fine in its execution and filled with breezy arms gestures and numbing drugged induced visions. Ben M Rogers’ lighting brings out all the colours seen in the set and when needed makes pristine moods through the serene atmospheres. An example of this when the entire cast are losing their inhibitions (and clothes) masterfully capturing their bodies in red hues, leading to the curtain of act one.

The true stars are the diverse cast and electric band, who never falter throughout. Jake Quickenden proved he was up to task of playing Berger. The backbone of the show, he gets some belters here and shows of his voice that was made famous on The X Factor. There is much sex appeal here with his laid back views on love and who his lovers can be as well. Paul Wilkins is Claude, the protagonists with a love for Manchester, England (proven by his wry song of the same name), torn over taking up arms in the fight in Vietnam, a struggle he maintain throughout the whole show. Some of the cast had the odd accent slip, though here Wilkins has to put on brief airs of a Manc accent, with a voice well suited to the role, subtle when needed.

Marcus Collins as Hud gets to tackle some bold material in racially charged songs, with a theatrical force of great proportions. Louise Francis as Raven, has a soaring voice that rises above the other when ever she sings and her solo moments are gripping. Woof is here taken on by Bradley Judge, a kinda gay flower-child who’s undying love for Mick Jagger knows no bounds. Judge taps into lots of humour in the piece, with lewd and coarse moments of vulgarity. When getting the chance to sing, this humour is held in every line, with a charm that never leaves him.

Stealing the show was Tom Bales as Margaret Mead, a giddy southern gal who had never encountered a hippy. We soon discover her true self and she sings My Conviction, a random song feeling more opera than funk, a pithy song about how many males in nature tend to be more flamboyant, to attract a mate. The brief scene was a highlight and had a flicker of Rocky Horror about it (some of this audience chose to dress up). Whilst there are too many in the cast to call out, the efforts made by all was formidable. How they maintain this kind of energy is a marvel in and of itself.

Though the hippy dream died out, Hair still holds up as a musical beacon, aspiring to make the world a better place, even with those flawed intentions. It is still as groovy as ever.
4 stars
Hair continues at New Theatre till 20th April 2018.

Reviewed by: James Ellis

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