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Hair review at the Vaults, London – ‘energetic but toothless’

The cast of Hair at the Vaults, London. Photo: Claire Bilyard. The cast of Hair at the Vaults, London. Photo: Claire Bilyard
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It is five decades since Hair, the hippie musical, first shook its baubles, bangles and beads.

Its claim to be the first rock musical notwithstanding it is largely remembered for the ensemble nudity and three songs – Aquarius, Good Morning Starshine and Let the Sunshine In.

This revival from Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre is an attempt to recreate the down and dirty spirit of the original Off-Broadway production while highlighting its contemporary relevance with freshly-tweaked lyrics and dialogue by one of the original writers James Rado.

The man-made cave of the Vaults provides an appropriate, if oven-like milieu. Beneath a ceiling festooned with ribbons and streamers the young cast members strut their hippy moves with an infectious energy to a nifty band hidden in the back. Not all the lyrics – old or new – are discernible but there are some fine singers, notably Laura Johnson, who get close to reanimating the revolutionary heart of the show.

The thin storyline is stretched to breaking point by director Jonathan O’Boyle who adheres to the gushing, rushing, dancing, hands-in-the-air, audience-involvement style of performance.

It makes for engaging entertainment but blunts the teeth of the tale about the rise and fall of the Summer of Love in 1967 and the anti-Vietnam War protest movement. A CND logo made up of white ribbons is hurriedly discarded and the great line about black men sent by white men to kill yellow men is tossed aside rather too casually.

Hair raised plenty of issues that remain active from the environment to nuclear disarmament but they fail to gain traction in this production which offers an ersatz Hippy Experience that is fun for all – or most of –  the family. But then, so is the London Dungeon.

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Energetic but toothless revival of a musical museum piece