Hair at the Vaults
Hair is a wonderfully surreal and deliciously irreverent musical that gives the audience as much nudity, drugs and simulated sex as they could possibly want. It is a fun, exhilarating and uplifting trip that will be loved by former and current hippies from across the generations; but the performance space and set design steal the show from Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s original script.
The story centres around a group of young hippies living in New York City, their drug-fuelled chatter, their attitudes towards love, race, sex and freedom, and the looming menace of the Vietnam war. Hair is often referred to as the original rock’n’roll musical and it caused a huge stir due to its scenes of nudity, flag burning, anti war rhetoric and drugs. This production at the Vaults marks its 50th anniversary.
The entire foyer area of the Vaults theatre is designed to look like a huge hippy-style marquee. The second the audience walk in they are transported into an idealised view of the 1960s because it is full of huge beds, mini tipis, psychedelic wall hangings and original photography. The space is set up to look like a forest during the first act, and the coloured ribbons hung all over the venue and woodland noises playing in the background really give the effect of being in a drug-fuelled wood party with friends. The production manages to engage our sense of hearing, sight and smell before the musical even starts.
Spectators are either seated around the performance space or in standard theatre rows, and as Hair is a fairly interactive show they can expect the cast to sing to them, thrust at them, give away gifts or try to marry them at some point during the night.
Most of the musical numbers are very catchy and fun to listen to – particularly LSD, Hare Krishna, Age of Aquarius and the end song Let the Sunshine In. The long trip sequence is mesmerising, and the use of lighting and sound effects is very effective and is a crucial part of the overall atmosphere. There are also several dance sequences, and the stoned dances are particularly entertaining and disturbingly accurate. The cast are well-rounded singers, actors and dancers, and there are no weak links in the performance.
However, the way they have been told to perform can be a little off putting after a while. This is a surreal musical, which isn’t meant to be realistic, but even so the over-acting, the sheer number of booty shakes and the many sexual references can become a little stale after a while. The main characters, Berger and Claudio, are not as likeable as they could be, and this is a problem because the hippies are the heroes and we are meant to care about them.
The final scene is also slightly confusing because, whilst Hair is obviously a very anti-war musical, it ends with Claudio looking sharp in his new army uniform and we don’t actually find out what happens to him. This could make it seem like the piece is actually giving a pro-war message, which is clearly not what is intended.
Photo: Claire Bilyard
Hair is at the Vaults from 4th October 2017 until 13th January 2018. For further information or to book visit the show website here.