Reviewed: HAIR

Leo Mylonadis lavishes in the energy and excellence at the first night of DULOG’s “overwhelmingly enjoyable” production of ‘Hair’.

Assembly Rooms DULOG durham durham university music theatre

With very little plot to speak of, songs that bear almost no relation to one another and an enormous cast taking part in dizzyingly intricate ensemble choreography, DULOG had set themselves no simple challenge in staging this term’s production of ‘HAIR’. However, from the moment the audience steps into the room, it becomes apparent that none of these issues will pose any sort of a problem for this cast: actors are scattered among the many levels of the Assembly Rooms, pushing health and safety regulations to their maximum. Hippies wander around, gratuitously expressing how happy they are to see you, all of which sets the tone of excitement, fun and happiness that pervades most of the play.

The stage is lit with a multitude of colours, and an enormous circular rig at the back adds splashes of hues and shades that made the original production so iconic and popular. The cast retain the high level of energy throughout the preset and smoothly transition into the first number, the powerful and rousing ‘Aquarius’, led triumphantly and elegantly by Julia Thompson-Smith.

As Broadway’s first concept musical, the audience must quickly get used to the fact that plot will feature very little in the production, with seemingly arbitrary lyrics often appearing in the songs. However, the cast swiftly proves that plot is almost redundant: the beauty of the musical numbers and the energy that emanates from the ensemble more than makes up for the lack of a discernible storyline. As the play progresses, however, a semblance of a plot becomes more apparent, and the burden of driving it is skilfully and powerfully carried by co-producer Elissa Churchill’s Sheila and Alex Humphries’ Berger both of whose musical talent was often unmatched. Henry Coates must also be praised for his portrayal of Claude, whose vocal confidence would convince any that he was in fact a seasoned DULOG performer, despite a less confident non-musical performance. The main characters’ performance was heartfelt, without descending into caricature, and the same can be said of the majority of the chorus’, credit to John Muething’s directorial prowess.

Arguably, HAIR’s greatest challenge and its greatest strength lies in the choral numbers. Lucie Crawford clearly recognised this and turned it on itself by making the most of the surprisingly versatile space in the Assembly Rooms. The ensemble dynamic saved the performance if it ever dropped in energy (which it rarely did) and when the plot disappeared, the chorus would provide such a spectacle that one would not mind the lack of coherence among the lyrics. The focus on the ensemble also meant that some particular musical talents shone through, only very few of which I can list without compromising the coherence of this review. Izzy Osborne, who also co-produced the production, and Hannah Azuonye’s sporadic solo appearances were imbued with a grace and confidence that worked off and amplified the ensemble dynamic; Hugh Train’s comic capabilities were brought out throughout the musical, while Xaver Touschek and Ben Gittins exuded professionalism in both their acting and singing. Where the ensemble truly shone was in its energy, which was so infectious that it really did involve the audience (often literally) and created a wholly exuberant atmosphere.

If there were any fault in the production, other than the strong sense of first-night nerves which pervaded the majority of the second act and caused certain scenes to look unsteady and actors to seem unsure of what they were doing, it would be in the few scenes where the action took place far upstage, behind a wall of twenty or so chorus members. The band takes up around a quarter of the stage, leaving little space for the sizeable cast in what was already a limiting space. A small amount of floor work was lost, which was a shame, considering the aforementioned talent of the cast.

As a primarily musical production, it was important to make sure the cast’s vocal abilities were all on top form, a fact which Jack Moreton’s musical direction secured excellently. The songs varied from intimidatingly loud to atmospheric, darker moments with an ease and elegance that made it easy for the audience to be drawn into the wonderful sounds of the cast and the exceedingly talented band. The singers and the band fused seamlessly for the vast majority of the numbers, and songs such as “I Got Life”, “Hair”, “Good Morning Starshine” and “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine in)” showcase some truly magnificent musical talents. Muething’s evocative vision moves the play beautifully from comedy to tragedy and creates some particularly effective scenes which could only improve with the inevitable confidence that comes with repeated performances. This overwhelmingly enjoyable production is not one to be missed.