Thu, 04 Jul 2019
Credit: Johan Persson
Review by JON LEWIS
Hair, at New Theatre Oxford
from Wednesday, June 26, to Saturday, June 29
IN 1968, only one day after the abolition of stage censorship in Britain, the American rock musical Hair opened in London. It could never have been presented the day before with its scene of nudity ending the first half, copious swearing, plentiful drug references and the non-hostile use of the ‘n’ word describing African-American communities. Hair celebrates the flower power generation that many commentators thought degenerate, produced at a time when many Londoners did not swing. Hair is an anti-Vietnam war musical, a non-violent middle class revolt againstUS foreign policy. Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre production, directed by Jonathan O’Boyle, marks the 50th anniversary of the show. Some numbers now have classic status, notably the opening hit Aquarius, I Got Life (a hit for Nina Simone), and the closing song Let the Sun Shine In (book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot). O’Boyle’s innovative opening includes a mix of speeches, beginning with Donald Trump, a prescient choice because, like many of the characters, he did not serve in
The central character is Claude (Paul Wilkins), who has been drafted into the army. The narrative arc of the loose-structured show follows his dilemma – to burn his draft papers and go to prison – or submit to the power structure and face death (one scene features characters gunned down in battle). Claude shares a home with the feisty Sheila (Daisy Wood-Davis), a winsome heroine, and Berger (Jake Quickenden), a louche, buttock-baring joker. The most powerful voices belong to Natalie Green, sassy, as Cassie, and Aiesha Pease, whose vibrant Dionne dominates the group songs. Alison Arnopp brings a light, humorous touch to the knocked-up Jeanie. The line that lingers longest in the memory, ‘the draft is white people
sending black people to fight yellow people to protect the country they stole from the red people’ summarises the political ideology underpinning this rainbow confection. O’Boyle, with the four-piece band playing beneath festival tents, allows the talents of the company to shine. With protests like Extinction Rebellion, will there be a similar popular musical today?