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Review of 50th Anniversary production of Hair at The Vaults

Andy Coxon and Hair
Andy Coxon and Hair

We starve, look, at one another short of breath, walking proudly in our winter coats, wearing smells from laboratories, facing a dying nation of moving paper fantasy. Listening for the new told lies, with supreme visions of lonely tunes.

It’s a cliché to say that history will always repeat itself, but sitting in Waterloo vaults and listening to these lyrics resonate just as strongly as they did in 1967, it becomes much less of a cliché and much more of a reality.

Set in the East Village in the shadow of the Vietnam war, Hair is a musical that defined a generation – known for its unapologetic social commentary and for confronting questions of war, peace, freedom, liberty and love. 50 years on from the Off-Broadway launch, this brilliant production is no different, surpassing all expectations in its ability to capture the essence of the era and the spirit of youth with sincerity and poignancy. As writer James Rado calls it, post the “summer of love; the fall of love”.

Many believe Hair is in danger of becoming a period piece, however, the production team skillfully navigate this obstacle ensuring that the show hits its mark. No effort has been spared by designer Maeve Black and her team in the execution of this immersive experience and as you lounge on a cushion, your head swimming in a sea of incense, it’s not hard to dissociate from 2017. From the moment you enter Waterloo Vaults, the audience are plucked from the modern day and hurled into the sounds, smells and sights of the 60s. This immersion is the backbone for this piece maintaining its cultural context and is executed on an impressive scale.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle’s addition of contemporary political references, developed in conjunction with original author James Rado, draws distinct parallels with the modern political climate. These references are mostly present at the start of the piece, which works brilliantly to ensure that there is no temporal confusion. The 60s are alive before you; weed, music and free love, but should you find yourself slipping from the haze and sinking back to the present time, the world you arrive in is not too dissimilar from that of the 60s.

Hair holds a special place in the hearts of many, but especially for those who lived it, and for the kids who grew up listening to it on their parent’s vinyl. As part of the second group, I can honestly say that this production is a gift to our generation. James Rado and Jonathan O’Boyle have stripped back the production and returned it to its base form, resulting in a truly raw and intimate show that balances an exuberant existentialism with a darkened loss of innocence. This is the real Hair – bearing its soul and focusing on what really matters; the characters and the journey.

Musically the production is superb and the offstage band are electric. From the first notes of Aquarius, delivered by the outstanding Shekinah McFarlane, the audience are assured that this much-loved score is in safe hands. The female cast are vocally exceptional and of particular note is Laura Johnson’s ‘Easy to be Hard’ which is chilling in its sincerity and vulnerability.

The male cast are likewise incomparable, particularly leading men Andy Coxon and Robert Metson in the roles of Berger and Claude. As the enthusiastic and passionate Berger, Coxon brings a vibrant exuberance to the stage which is irresistibly infectious. Capturing the heart of the movement with occasional glimpses of frustration at the apparent futility of their situation, his warmth and charisma easily charms the audience making us feel that, to some extent, we intuitively know him already.

In the role of Claude, Metson delivers a sobering realism and perhaps, a more relatable character for the modern audience. One foot in the free-spirited world of the tribe, the other being drawn into the terrifying reality of conscription, his pursuit of invisibility is heartbreaking and the thought of his presence on the front line is truly sickening.

The tribe are everything you’d hope for. Showcasing unity and free-love, they entice even the most straight-laced of us to give over to an obligation free life. Flirting with the fantastical, particularly during the dream sequences, they carry off the diverse and eclectic choreography with impressive finesse. The now notorious nude scene is handled with grace and dignity by the entire company, fulfilling its role of showcasing humanity in its most vulnerable form, just as it was originally intended.

Hair defined a generation, a generation who helped stop a war and triggered social change the likes of which the world has not seen since. 50 years on (almost to the day) in a world of Trump and the threat of nuclear war, it’s time for this generation to find its voice and make some noise. Big changes start with small steps, and a celebration of “peace, love and happiness” in Waterloo Vaults seems the perfect place to start. “Join the tribe!

5 Star Rating

Review by Cassandra Griffin

The genuinely youthful cast will bring the original protest musical to life, in the intimate theatre seating just 200, revealing every emotion up close and personal through HAIR‘s drug-fuelled journey. The cast for this thrilling, young and moving production of HAIR is: DANIEL BAILEY, Berger – ANDY COXON, ADAM DAWSON, Margaret Mead – PATRICK GEORGE , Hud – JAMMY KASONGO, Jeanie – JESSIE MAY. Cassie – NATALIE GREEN, Sheila – LAURA JOHNSON, Dionne – SHEKINAH McFARLANE, Claude – ROBERT METSON, Woof – LIAM ROSS-MILLS, Mary – KORYANN STEVENS and Chrissy – KIRSTEN WRIGHT.

HAIR changed the face of musical theatre and is still ground-breaking at the age of 50. HAIR opened off-Broadway in 1967, and to open this new production off-West-End in 2017 is the perfect move for Hope Mill Theatre’s acclaimed production, directed by Jonathan O’Boyle – as relevant now as it was in the 60s.

1967 and HAIR‘s hippie-hood youngsters live as The Tribe, in the East Village of New York: yearning to change the world, questioning authority and the American flag. They are wild, colourful, free, sexually liberated beautiful people who join in protest and song – under the shadow of the Vietnam War. Featuring classic hit songs: Aquarius, Let the Sun Shine In and Good Morning Star Shine – and the story of youth and war still resounds throughout the world making this a topical musical for the millennial generation. 2017 vividly sees the world protesting and marching, fighting for freedom of speech; from Trump to Brexit via Syria – the core spirit of HAIR.

The Vaults Theatre
Booking to 13th January 2018


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