Jonathan O’Boyle’s production of the 1960s countercultural musical Hair opened at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester in 2016. A semi-immersive run at the Vaults followed to tie in with the musical’s 50th anniversary.
This tour takes the show onto much larger stages, but in scaling it up, the impact of the original is diluted.
Hair is a problematic show in many ways, at odds with its own mythology, but it contains a strong message, pressing for peace and love in a time of war and social unrest.
The sheer energy of O’Boyle’s production remains intact, but the proscenium-arch staging stymies any real intimacy, despite Jake Quickenden, as the rebellious hippie Berger, leaping into the stalls wearing little more than a thong.
The more pensive moments are distorted or overplayed, while William Whelton’s confident choreography is more reminiscent of A Chorus Line than a hippie commune.
There is, however, much to love about Maeve Black’s colourful set and costumes, and flashes of brilliance remain. Paul Wilkins’ jubilant rendition of I Got Life lights up the stage, as does the show’s penultimate anthem, Let the Sunshine In. Hollyoaks’ Daisy Wood-Davis hits just the right tone, as the passionate Sheila; she has an astounding voice.
O’Boyle’s production may lack the sophistication of the Hope Mill’s revival of Pippin but this is a crowd-pleasing show that will introduce a wider audience to this powerhouse fringe theatre and its work.