Hair at Wimbledon Theatre
I have somehow managed to never see Hair before. I watched the film version at university for one of my modules, but I knew little about the stage show beyond the Age of Aquarius song and a vague outline of the plot.
This situation was unacceptable to S, who is a huge fan of the show. She was, she admits, spoiled by her introduction to it which was the Broadway revival cast featuring Gavin Creel as Claude, Will Swenson as Berger and Sasha Allen as Dionne.
So we settled into New Wimbledon Theatre on Saturday for this production's final night at the theatre before it moves off on tour round the country. The set grabs you the moment you walk in. It is big, bold and colourful and looks like the hippie souk it is meant to be, with the band brilliantly dotted around it and both musicians and cast directed by MD and pianist Gareth Bretherton.
This touring version is a continuation of the award-winning 50th anniversary production, which took place at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester and The Vaults in London. Some of the cast have changed, with reality TV stars Jake Quickenden as Berger and Marcus Collins as Hud joining the cast, alongside Les Miserables alum Paul Wilkins as Claude.
Wilkins is brilliant in this production, capturing the internal turmoil of the teen caught between ethics and duty and his actions in the final act bring a sadness and pathos to the action. Unfortunately it is an emotional engagement which the production had, for me, not quite captured up to that point.
Quickenden's Berger is flighty and outrageous without ever seeming very serious, while the contrast of activist student Sheila with the hippy tribe was almost completely lost. The smaller touring cast meant that some of the bigger numbers - which are apparently rabble-rousers in some versions - fell a little flat and some cast members were used almost to the point of being over exposed. And I don't just mean when they took their clothes off at the end of Act 1.
This is not to say the production is not enjoyable; it has a strong opening with the cast entering through the audience and assembling onstage to a soundtrack of modern-day radio soundbites, demonstrating the timelessness of its message. But it never quite carries through. This is a show whose story and music should raise the same questions today about authority and rebellion as it did when it was written. This one, unfortunately, does not.
1. Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)
2. Waitress (The Adelphi)
3. Hair (New Wimbledon Theatre)
4. The Wedding Singer* (Hampton Hill Playhouse, HMOS)
[* Amateur production; Company listed after the theatre]