Hair: The Musical

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.


Alice’s Adventures Underground 2017

Two years after I first ventured down the rabbit hole at Alice’s Adventures Underground, I returned with some friends to make the trip again. The acclaimed show has returned for 2017, and I knew I wanted to participate again.

Everything I originally said about the production still stands: the storyline, the attention to detail, the costumes and the performances are all excellent. This time I chose the “Eat Me” route and had an experience that was very different from my first. I finally met Humpty Dumpty and the Mock Turtle, as well as the Frog Footman. Just like the first time, I had lots of fun.

My friends and I ended the evening with a drink in the bar and a quick game of flamingo croquet. If you haven’t experienced this wonderful show, please do while you still have the chance!

Miss Nightingale

Miss Nightingale, which started out as a three-person chamber musical at The Lowry Studio and the King’s Head Theatre, has expanded and enjoyed five different UK tours over the last few years; it has now settled in to The Vaults Theatre beneath Waterloo Station for a run of several weeks. I actually saw it back in 2013 at the Leicester Square Theatre, and loved the show. I’m happy to report that it’s lost nothing in the intervening years: if anything, it’s grown in coherence and confidence.

Set during World War II, the show, written and composed by Matthew Bugg, follows Maggie Brown, a.k.a. Miss Nightingale, a talented songstress who works as a nurse by day and is a cabaret star by night. Maggie is played by Tamar Broadbent, a comedian who exudes down-to-earth warmth, charm, and Northern tenacity, and is an incredibly talented singer. She performs Miss Nightingale’s cabaret-style musical numbers with captivating flair: songs such as ‘Let Me Play Upon Your Pipe’, ‘The Sausage Song’ and ‘Stand Up and Be Counted’ are melodic and rather saucy.

Adding weight to the show is the exploration of the relationship between Maggie’s friend and songwriter George (Conor O’Kane) and her patron, nightclub owner Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe (Nicholas Coutu-Langmead). Their relationship is dealt with sensitively. Homosexuality and issues of class are not the only difficult issues that the musical tackles – George is a Polish Jew, with family in danger from the Nazis, and Maggie has her own problems to deal with in the forms of roguish boyfriend Tom (Niall Kerrigan). Outside of the music hall, the songs sung by the characters, such as ‘This Man of Mine’ and Someone Else’s Song’, are heartfelt and moving, another highlight being ‘Meine Liebe Berlin’, sung by George and reminiscent of the musical Cabaret. The cast (who also include Tobias Oliver and the clearly multi-talented writer and director, Matthew Bugg) play all their own instruments, and their performances are full of energy.

The creative team have taken great pains to ensure the World War II theme is evoked down to the slightest detail: even the programmes are in the form of ration books. The underground nature of the Vaults, with trains rumbling overhead, perfectly suits this cabaret-style show.

Miss Nightingale runs at The Vaults Theatre until 20 May, and in my opinion it’s a superb show, well worth seeing. Many thanks to TheatreBloggers for giving me the opportunity.

Miss Nightingale poster

Wise words from Miss Nightingale: The Musical

Alice’s Adventures Underground

The Vaults beneath Waterloo Station once again play host to theatre: this time, it’s an immersive, site-specific production based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. Some might call Alice’s Adventures Underground more promenade theatre than immersive, but I found that the character interaction and the sense of participation made it one of the most immersive experiences I’ve personally had.

Put together by Les Enfants Terribles, the production has been incredibly well thought-out. You arrive at the entrance to wait in a holding area at the bar, hand stamped with a little clock, and are encouraged to check your bag into a cloakroom. I didn’t, but with hindsight I probably should have, as you do need to squeeze into some narrow spaces, and it’s easier to do this unencumbered. Once your ticket time is called, you queue up and are led outside and around the corner into a beautiful Victorian-style study, strewn with books and photographs, echoing Lewis Carroll’s own interests. This room is a masterpiece in itself, and I wish I’d had more time just to look over the details, including a curved bookshelf that defied all logic, and a two-way mirror.

Entrance down a book-lined passageway and a trip “down the rabbit hole” follow, until you meet the White Rabbit himself and are invited to “Eat Me” or “Drink Me”. From here you are separated from the rest of your group, as there are two different routes around Wonderland (becoming four later on), until you unite for the final scene and come to understand why this is the case. I don’t want to give too much away about the rest of the production, but I loved it – I was able to meet some memorable characters from both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, including the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, the Knave of Hearts, Tweedledum and Tweedledee and the Duchess. Not forgetting the famous Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, which took place in one eerie and atmospheric vault and featured the Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse. The two books were blended together very well, I thought, and the addition of the new storyline worked well within the existing framework.

Alice herself is absent from the journey you take, but glimpses of her are present throughout, eerie and affecting. I didn’t think the production suffered by her absence; indeed, it fit so well into the story that I couldn’t imagine it any other way. The final scene, which brought everything together, was affecting and very well done. The costumes and detailed sets were stunning, the logistics of the whole thing astounded me, and I loved the puppetry.

From reading other reviews of the piece, it’s become apparent that not every journey around Wonderland sees everything – I didn’t meet the Mock Turtle or Humpty Dumpty, for example. I took the “Drink Me” route this time; If I get the chance I would love to visit again before Wonderland closes at the end of August and take the “Eat Me” route, which I think would deliver an entirely different experience. Though it’s only halfway through the year, I’m sure that Alice’s Adventures Underground will be one of my theatrical highlights of 2015.