Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Hair’, which is at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 27th July
Settling into my seat the other night to hear the opening number of the current revival of the 60s hippy musical ‘Hair’ set me wondering if we are still living in ‘The Age of Aquarius’? And if so, what happened to all the “harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding” we were promised?
The answer is that Planet Earth will be in astrological sign of Aquarius for another 2,100 years. So, this show could run and run.
I first saw ‘Hair’ at the Bristol Hippodrome exactly 50 year ago and the prospect of seeing it again was attended by considerable excitement. It was certainly radical back then … a sixties side-swipe at practically everything that was wrong with the world; war, famine, pollution, fascism. You name it…the hippy culture pointed it out. But that’s all Flower Power did. By definition, the liberal, dope-smoking minds of that time were far from focussed. There was no organised opposition to the wicked ways of the Western World. So we have been trundling blindly down the same dirt track ever since. All the earnest issues raised in ‘Hair’ still blight us now. It’s just that the war is somewhere else.
Watching the youthful exuberance of my teen years made me feel guilty. I shouted loudly in the 60s too…but, like the characters on stage, I did little about it. And now look!
This is, of course, not quite the state of mind in which to watch a happy-go-lucky musical. ‘Hair’ is a riotous, rumbustious, explosion of light, colour and sound that changed musical theatre for ever. So, it is fabulous to see it again; to be reminded how extraordinary it was, and to sing along to the songs that have lain quietly in the memory for 50 years : “Aquarius”, “Ain’t Got No”, “Good Morning Starshine” and “Let the Sunshine In”.
What little plot there is, in this meandering musical, concerns a group of young American rebels-without-a-clue, desperate to break free from the strictures of their repressed parents’ society. Free love and nudity abound (it’s only five minutes to the first bare butt) but denying one’s duty is actually tough work. Its easy to talk about burning your army draft papers. Actually doing it, is harder. Consequently, in the one nuanced storyline threaded through the show, the central character of Claude does wind up in Vietnam. Paul Wilkins get beneath the superficiality of the show to present us with a character to really care about…which make his repeated shooting at the hands of the Viet Cong all the more startling.
Tom Bales is a breath of fresh, comic, air as the repressed middle-aged woman, Margaret, who is strangely attracted to hippy-dom even though she knows it’s bad for her; though he was slightly upstaged on the night by an elderly gent in the audience who had better silver flowing locks than any of the cast.
The show is peppered with great throwback lines. Who remembers the futile attempt to levitate The Pentagon? I’d forgotten how much of a hippy idol Mick Jagger was. And the song which includes the line, “I’m looking rather attractive, now that I’m radioactive” is much rather more chilling in the wake of Three Mile Island and Fukushima.
Apart from a little clarification – and the obligatory opening reference to Mr. Trump – the show is, quite rightly, little changed from its original incarnation. Even the nude tableaux is as coy as it was in ‘68.
‘Hair’ was very much “a show of its time” and retains the charm, integrity and dynamism of its era. It made this old hippy very nostalgic. I just hope the younger audience members around me were not too baffled. If you take your (14+) grandchildren to see it … be prepared for a grilling on the way home.
Visit www.grandtheatre.info for bookings & information about Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre