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17th April 2019

Review: Hair the Musical

Louise Avey reviews a revival of Hair the Musical at the Palace Theatre
Review: Hair the Musical
Photo: Johan Persson

Hair is a celebration of bohemian life, sexual freedom, polyamory, racial integration, expression, and unity.

The neon lighting of the staging: from the tapestry hanging with the words ‘we won’t fight another rich man’s war’ and ‘end the war before it ends you’. This literally and figuratively set the backdrop for the central war theme that Hair explores.

Hair does not shy away from the controversial themes that underpin ‘hippie life’. One area being polyamory, of Greek origin meaning ‘many’ and ‘love. This was explored in a way I have never before seen on stage or other mediums. The notion of the ‘unicorn’ in the polyamorous relationship (Claude in this case) with the associated feelings of loneliness and jealousy was interestingly explored in an empathetic way.

Hair succeeds in showing that platonic relationships are sometimes much more integral than romantic relationships, highlighting the multi-faceted complicity of relationships on the whole.

The critiques on American life offered felt sometimes incongruous, as Marcus Collins (playing Hud) flits between his hippy character of Hud and an aggressive American war-loving father. However, again, the character development was excellent. What at first seemed disjointed became a vehicle to reveal the dark side of the American dream.

Hair shows how sometimes care and concern is masked in forceful and dangerous parenting, such as the storyline where Claude is sent off to war, much to the parents’ delight, a very real conclusion for some people in the 60s when Hair was originally made and performed.

Even the somewhat outdated Black Boys and White Boys songs which superficially feel ridiculous and offensive, create a rare opportunity for two women to sing respectively about their love for each other’s race, important and relevant. This is the same for the scene where men and women lean on each other’s shoulders while sat open-legged in a full circle, in such a simple gesture, the leaning suggests a unity of gender, races and people.

A great strength of Hair is that even seemingly small characters were explored in depth. This is true of the small character of Margaret Mead. As a drag character, serving light humorous relief, she was so well developed that it stole the most laughs in the show. The audience participation was genius, with Margaret Mead sitting on an laps in the audience. Her commitment to this character was amazing and bewitching, capturing an all-laughing audience who were enthralled and invested in her southern belle character. Her very real comments on the insignificance of gender and her hints at gender performance, such as clothing, makeup and drag were beautiful and intricate, unexpectedly progressive. Hair set out to push boundaries, and it definitely does that, even for a 21st century audience, who aren’t shocked by much.

Hair is still a revolutionary performance, a force for change, proving now more than ever, theatre and art can always spark a revolution, if people are willing to watch with an open heart and an open mind.

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