Latest Review – Hair [Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester]


Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Until Saturday 3rd December, 2016

Earlier in the year, Manchester’s newest and most exciting theatrical venue, Hope Mill Theatre, kicked off their inaugural in-house proceedings with a hugely acclaimed, sell-out revival of Jason Robert Brown’s searing musical, Parade. With the success of Parade‘s extended run in mind, there was always a danger that Hope Mill’s follow up might not live up to the high expectations previously set; thankfully however, that said follow up is a rare revival of the notorious, ground-breaking musical Hair, and it most certainly does not disappoint.

With a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, and an anthemic, alternative rock score by Galt MacDermot, the profane, irreverent, drug heavy and sexually charged Hair was a notorious product of the hippie counterculture and sexual liberation (or revolution) that blossomed during the anti-Vietnam movement of the 1960s, unsurprisingly causing great controversy at the time.

Set in New York City’s East Village in 1967, Hair follows the exploits of a ‘tribe’ of young, long-haired, politically active hippies attempting to live by the liberal Peace and Love philosophy, desperately seeking to change the world and struggling to comprehend society and authority during the darkest days of the Vietnam War.

At the centre of the 12-strong tribe are unofficial leaders Claude and Berger, and their determined NYU student roommate, Sheila. In contrast to Sheila and the free-spirited Berger, it is the conflicted Claude who experiences the most emotionally and psychologically difficult journey. Faced with pressure from his conservative parents, Claude is forced to decide whether to fight conscription and ‘dodge the draft’ like his fellow tribe members have done, or succumb to pressure, serve his country and ultimately negate his ‘peace and love’ pacifist principles.

The show has of course lost much of its controversial power over the years, but though there are elements that do still feel very relevant, some of the more shocking aspects now feel rather tame compared to a lot of contemporary media; but that doesn’t matter. In stepping into Hope Mill’s intimate and colourful theatre space, audiences are swiftly time warped back to a hazy, drug fuelled 1960s for what proves a joyous, brilliant and hallucinatory new revival; cleverly staged, bursting with energy and executed by a knock out ensemble cast.

Despite the show’s often disjointed book, Jonathan O’Boyle’s smart, fluid new production – co-produced by Hope Mill co-founders Joseph Houston and William Whelton, and Katy Lipson’s Aria Entertainment – effectively captures the essence of the era, ensuring the dramatic elements survive under the force of such endearing, liberal anthems as Aquarius, Let The Sun Shine, Ain’t Got No and Good Morning Starshine.

The on-stage band led by Musical Director Gareth Bretherton are of course a standout, and Bretherton too draws out some fabulous vocals and harmonies from a cast including Robert Metson as Claude, Ryan Anderson as Berger, Laura Johnson as Sheila, Kirsten Wright as Chrissy, Chloe Carrington as Jeanie, Shekinah McFarlane as Dionne, Liam Ross-Mills as Woof, Linford Johnson as Hud, Natalie Green as Cassie, Joel Burman as Steve, Andrew Patrick-Walker as Walter and Koryann Stevens as Mary. (It would have been very unfair to single out indivduals!).

Aside from co-producing duties, William Whelton also deserves special mention for his excellent natural, free-flowing choreography.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.

Final Performance at Hope Mill Theatre: Saturday 3rd December, 2016

For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.

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