Hair is one of those musicals I’ve always been aware of, but never actually seen, until now. This 50th anniversary production, which started life at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre, has transferred to the Vaults under Waterloo Station, where the whole area has been decked out to resemble a hippy haven. The theatre itself is small and intimate, decorated with multicoloured ribbons.
Hair is very much an ensemble piece: written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado with music by Galt MacDermot, it centres around a group of hippies who spend their time getting high and going to anti-war demos. The plot, such as it is, focuses on the character of Claude, who has been called up to fight in Vietnam, and whether he will or won’t go off to war. I can only imagine how potent this subject must have been at the time.
The show is certainly very much of its time – several of the racial and national stereotypes it alludes to made me uncomfortable. I also found much of the second half, which is essentially a massive trip, a bit dull. However, there is still plenty to appreciate. The cast are hugely talented: Robert Metson as Claude, Andy Coxon as Berger, and Shekinah McFarlane as a standout among an impressive bunch of supporting case members. When they are all singing and dancing in harmony, under Jonathan O’Boyle’s assured direction, it’s pretty impressive. The essential conflict: between commonly-accepted notions of patriotism versus the desire for peace – is timeless. The ending is memorably bittersweet.
The production is obviously an exercise in nostalgia for theatregoers of a certain age, many of whom were first on the floor during the encore when audience members were invited to join the cast on stage. However, it still has a message to offer younger audiences, and it’s a must for anyone interested in seeing one of the most significant musicals of the twentieth century.