Skip to main content

Review of Hairspray at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Having clocked up fifteen musicals since my first just eighteen months ago I thought I had become used to their shear exuberance at times, but I knew I had to be prepared for Hairspray as having seen the Travolta film version, this I realised was going to be off the campometre. I wasn't quite prepared as a cascade of bright colours, over the top performances and madness ensued.

What kept it working for me though as someone who prefers his plays to his sing and dancers was the actual tough narrative behind the big characters. Hairspray in its own unique way tells a very powerful story of prejudice and racial tension of the early sixties. A place where whites and blacks didn't mix on television (the latter had their so-called Negro day once a month) and that the place for the slightly increased in body substance was doing the laundry and certainly not on the TV in peoples living rooms. So in huge, no ginormous brush strokes Hairspray tells a strong tale behind the frilly dresses and neon like suits.

As to be expected the acting is bold and big and in the case of Tony Maudsley as Edna Turnblad, also big in statue, from height and girth he towers over his diminutive husband Wilbur (Peter Duncan). Both give great performances, but it does take until the second half and the song You're Timeless To Me for Duncan to get a full chance to show his skills. They provide during this routine some of the bigger, and more fruity laughs of the night. Freya Sutton as Tracy Turnblad is a pocket rocket of energy throughout providing the acting standards and vocal skills required for the lead role. Claire Sweeney also does not disappoint as the frankly horrible and racist Velma Von Tussle. While Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle perhaps once again proves that the best acts don't win the X-Factor as she belts out some audience gasping moments.

For all the excellent leads though, the stars of the show lie further down the billing for me. Never bettered in the show is Monique Young as Tracy's tremendously awkward friend Penny. She is simply brilliant at all times and whenever on stage the eye drifts as if like a magnet to her perfected awkward dance moves. Her evolution through the play is deftly performed in such a bold show and coupled with the simply superb Dex Lee as Seaweed with his killer moves, they make indeed the perfect couple. Also an absolute delight is Tracey Penn as her various brassy and suggestive characters.

Drew McOnie's choreography is also a simply incredible feast of delights. His work had been brilliant in Royal & Derngate's homegrown Oklahoma earlier in the year, but with Hairspray he moves the notch up another degree with some stunningly put together pieces and the hugely talented swing nails them to perfection. Less successful for me is the set which perhaps at times is a little too clever and dynamic. There is also for the first time for me a rather distracting situation of seeing a little too much off stage action. Due to a wheeled on and off stage, there is a curtain that doesn't reach the floor and I am afraid due to this you tend to see a lot of action of people legs walking about. I wondered at first whether my location in the stalls to one side was to blame, however having consulted with fellow blogger @chrispoppe who was centre stalls, this was not the case. There were also a few technical moments on the night including the loss of one of the four monitors and Jon Tsouras (Corny Collins) mic failure (which was very well handled though).

However despite any criticism it is an excellent lively show which the packed, and I mean packed audience at Royal & Derngate loved. The finale song You Can't Stop The Beat is one truly special song and the full cast make it a brilliant finish to the evening and despite some reservations from me and some design issues comes highly recommended.

««««

Performance reviewed: Monday 28th September, 2015 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.

Hairspray is on at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 3rd October, 2015 before continuing its tour until the 14th May, 2016. Details can be found at http://www.hairsprayuktour.com/

For further details about the Royal & Derngate visit their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review of The Blue Road by R&D Young Company at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

I have a 100% strike record with the wonderful Youth Theatre group at Royal & Derngate, they have never let me down with a show and sometimes with those of Sweeney Todd and Kontact, have provided me with some of the very optimum theatre points of each year. The Blue Road, their very latest production for me is slightly less successful.

However, it thankfully and perhaps not surprisingly, is nothing to do with the constantly talented bunch of actors that gather in this group. My problem lies in two places, of play selection and the way it is told. The Blue Road chronicles the story of a group of young people on the backend of a not totally described crisis, and this, unfortunately, is where we were more or less just two years ago with the Young Company and their show Immune. I have always been interested in these post apocalyptic stories and often love them, however for the same group to do two so close together feels a shame. They challenge certainly, but I am sure there are many…

Review of Great Expectations by The Royal & Derngate Actors Company at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Market Boy from The Actors Company last year was a remarkable show and is likely to stay with me for a long time, so following it with this year's production was always going to be a tough call and with their production of the epic Dickens classic Great Expectations, they at least didn't lack ambition.

I have to be honest, things for me didn't start well. The first few minutes of this adaptation by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod is a busy and convoluted sequence moving the opening part of the story in an unclear and often irritating way. For those present not aware of the original story, I wouldn't envy them trying to keep up with what is going on. However much of the trouble of this opening sequence is quickly corrected as scenes become more defined and controlled and the story is allowed to develop at a slower pace.

Perhaps also in the early part, it doesn't help either that the gender-swapped Magwitch played by Salli Bersham is a little too full on with the o…

Review of Hansel & Gretel by Warts & All at Delapré Abbey, Northampton

For those unfamiliar with Kneehigh Theatre (from where this show originally comes), the best way of explaining them is that they do traditional things, differently. This performance by Warts and All Theatre of their adaptation of the classic tale of Hansel & Gretel tells you much of what you need to know early on as a (human) rabbit is pinned down upon a table and skinned (half their costume removed). It is just one of an evening of wacky and quite brilliant moments as this production sours mostly for the sky of brilliance.

Handed to a cast of young performers, the result is often disturbingly professional. Sure it is still rough around the edges at times, but perhaps this helps the material. It doesn't actually matter if there is sparring from the cast with the audience, knowing looks and playfulness. It doesn't matter if one of the cast nearly knocks the cymbal of the musicians flying, perhaps it would have been even better if they had, this is anachic fun at its very b…