If the truth be told, I’ve never been too much of a fan of hippies – I’m far too into my clean-living, hygiene and monogamy. How then did I come to end my night out at Hair happily dancing on the stage, next to a man who started to undress?
I went to see Hair with some trepidation, after all the reputation of the ‘hippy’ musical goes before it: it originally opened in the UK in 1968 after the censorship on theatres was abolished and they celebrated with as much shocking stuff as possible. The show contains nudity, drugs and lots of sex. But in 2010, even to me, this is all a lot less outrageous than it must have been forty plus years ago.
Songs such as the Age of Aquarius are a spectacular blast, mainly due to the talent of the performers. The actors – all shipped over from the Broadway production – are sensational; both individually and as a group, and are backed up by an equally amazing bunch of musicians. The stage is designed to encourage the actors to play around and they really go for it, leaping through the seats, teasing and messing with the audience.
Generally, I like my stars to be relatively well behaved and to leave me well alone but here it is one of the strengths of the show. This is mostly due to the performers’ complete confidence, which translates into an utter lack of shame. I saw at least one innocent audience member being straddled by Will Swenson, getting well into the character of the loincloth clad lothario of the piece, Berger. There are some really joyous moments too, like the performance of ‘I got life’, now better known as the loveable song from the Muller advert.
However, despite the very best efforts of the cast, after a while the songs about drugs, about free love, about meditation and other variations on a hippie theme do become a little tedious. Thankfully towards the end of the first half, a stronger plotline begins to develop, based around one of the hippy clan, Claude, receiving his draft card. He goes to fight in Vietnam where he is killed. The final scene uses a sad lament using the chorus to ‘Let the Sun Shine in’ as the cast slowly filter through the auditorium.
The tempo of the song gradually speeds up until it’s cleverly flipped into a joyous celebration of life, as the audience members are invited to come and dance on stage with the actors. The song is changed into an uplifting anthem and it’s a wonderfully, happily chaotic ending to the show, a perfect representation of the spirit of the characters we’ve just been watching. So, without expecting it I found myself leaping up to strut my stuff on a West End stage. I left the theatre definitely a lot happier, possibly a bit hippier and firmly inclined to get a bit hairer in the future.