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Review of 50th anniversary tour of Hair the Musical at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford

By Molly Mileham-Chappell

There was free love, hardcore drugs and rock'n'roll aplenty in Dartford last night.

Hair the Musical, playing at the Orchard Theatre this week, is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary with a new UK tour.

That makes it more than twice my age. And as a theatre lover, I never usually consider the age of a show - I just watch and soak it up.

Jake Quickenden leads the Hair cast. Credit: Johan Persson
Jake Quickenden leads the Hair cast. Credit: Johan Persson

As I looked around the audience, however I did notice I was one of the youngest there. With this show, I quickly realised it serves as a trip down memory lane for those who lived through the days of hippies and free love.

Set in 1967, it follows a group of young adults protesting the cost and justification of the Vietnam war - all while and embracing their new-found sexual liberation and recreational drug taking. And in this 'Age of Aquarius', the youngsters, known as the 'tribe', yearn to change the world through song.

Marketed as 'wild, colourful, sexually liberated and free' - the production is all of the above.

Jointly produced by Hope Mill Theatre, Aria Entertainment and Senbla, this anniversary production is heading out around the UK direct from a sell-out London run and a 2018 WhatsOnStage award win.

The Grammy award-winning score, with music by Galt MacDermot and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, still remains an enjoyable listen, with stand-out numbers being I Got Life and the spine-tingling finale Let the Sunshine In.

The cast as a whole have some of the strongest vocals I have ever heard collectively.

Incredible riffs, powerhouse singers and oozing charisma poured out from the stage from every performer. It's hard to single any one cast member out.

The show does however feature some famous names worth mentioning. Dancing on Ice winner Jake Quickenden, glistened as Berger. His flamboyant persona made him magnetic and I couldn't take my eyes off his performance.

Marcus Collins of X Factor fame also features as Hud, but was replaced by understudy Spin in last night's show, who happened to do a sterling job.

Daisy Wood-Davis, best known for playing Kim Butterfield in Hollyoaks, is also fabulous as the go-getting educated political activist Sheila.

Direction by Jonathan O'Boyle is a tad zany - much like the story - but clever use of psychedelic lighting by Tom Murton complements this.

The cast of Hair the Musical. Credit: Johan Persson
The cast of Hair the Musical. Credit: Johan Persson

A highlight of the show for me was the opening scene before Aquarius, with the cast walking through the audience to audio snippets depicting Donald Trump as President as a nod to modern day politics. It would have been nice to have seen more of these contemporary references to symbolise how much, and also how little, has changed in 50 years.

As for the set design, it was vibrant, eye-catching and fun, but not explicitly clear that the action was taking place in the East Village of New York. A fun addition was having the band on stage sat in tipis, dressed as hippies.

The show, at times, reminded me of scenes I saw before my very eyes in 2017 at Glastonbury... Far-out teens and 20 to 30-somethings 'living their best lives', watching some of the world's most renowned artists - all while high as a kite.

I didn't understand it then - and I'm not sure I fully understood it last night either.

The cast of Hair the Musical. Credit: Johan Persson
The cast of Hair the Musical. Credit: Johan Persson

Watching scenes of full frontal nudity is not usually how I spend my Monday evenings - so it's safe to say it was a bit out of the ordinary for me, and somewhat of a theatrical culture shock.

But it was only when I actually 'let go' myself that I realised the story didn't necessarily need to be understood, just accepted.

Maybe I just wasn't prepared for Hair to be so weird, wacky - and also at times - wonderful.

Or maybe it's a 'generation thing' and us 'millennials' are all far too uptight nowadays... Or maybe 'you had to be there' the first time around.

I'm not sure what the answer is or if there even is one.

But having said that, those audience members who are all about nostalgia, glorious vocals or strive to be green eco-warriors, will find Hair right up their street.

DETAILS

Hair the Musical is at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford from Monday, May 13 to Saturday, May 18.

To book tickets from £25, go online at orchardtheatre.co.uk or telephone 01322 220000.

The show is suitable for ages 14 and above as it contains some nudity.

Read more: All the latest entertainments and stage news across Kent

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