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Review of Hair at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Life can be easy sometimes as a theatre blogger. When the worlds collide to make something as a complete package so brilliant that you don't have to dwell on anything bad and break things down to analyse. I love being kind, I hate being critical. Hair at the Hope Mill Theatre allows me to have an easy and happy day today.

Indeed it is very easy to be won over by a show at the relatively new Hope Mill Theatre immediately, simply because of how brilliant it is as a venue. After having had my longest ever journey to a theatre, and my first visit to Manchester itself, it offers a quirky, warm and truly welcoming embrace.

Hair is a 1967 anti-war kaleidoscopic feast with a relatively light plot line, held together by a really unique collection of songs and dance sequences. This being the very first time seeing the show, I have to admit that there were parts where I wasn't entirely clear what was going on, however like the weed smoking Tribe, I was without question enjoying the trip. There was also the surprising reality that other than Aquarius and 'Hare Krishna' and Let The Sun Shine In, the songs were all unfamiliar to me. However there are some amazing songs in this show, including the booming and popping Ain't Got No, Manchester, England and the title track Hair. It truly is an impressive collection of songs, and a heck of a lot of them.
Image: Anthony Robling
This production directed by Jonathan O'Boyle does pretty much everything right and I am assured other than the perhaps questionably judgement of the Trump piece at the start, presents the show in its entirety and undiluted. A quite incredible opening presentation of Aquarias at the begining has the goose pimples out ready for a stunning evening ahead. Ryan Anderson as Berger has amazing fun with his playing to the audience and it doesn't feel too scary and despite my presence in the front row, I remained safe (although I did have my beard rubbed during Hair).

I also did my usual falling in love with a cast member again, and not for the first time it was the dance captain. Laura Johnson was simply captivating as Sheila, nailing the look and the part to perfection. If I hadn't already been smitten before, her simply gorgeous performance of Good Morning Sunshine would have completed the deal. Also of special mention was Andrew Patrick-Walker's great little turn as Margaret Mead, really incredibly entertaining stuff.

Working in the unusual but brilliant space of the Hope Mill Theatre offers challenges for director Jonathan O'Boyle, however he does a superb job, as no matter where you are seated, the audience clearly sees everything, including key moments. The cast are also often a foot from the audience and William Whelton's fluid choreography still doesn't relent, offering full on movement. This means that the cast has to have incredible spatial awareness to not end up whacking or crashing into the front row. Also of note, is how this production also handles that infamous nude scene, it is with the dignity and respect the cast and perhaps the audience deserves. I am happy to sit on the fence regarding its very existence, however here it doesn't dwell, it happens and then it is over, there is very little to feel awkward about it. Perhaps required, but nicely dealt with. Design from Maeve Black is also top notch, with grass under foot, tree stumps scattered and fabulous ribbon backing to the walls. It all creates the perfect festival atmosphere.

Music with the work of musical director Gareth Bretherton is pumped expertly into the space from their den at the end of the performance space, and there are actually very impressive acoustics considering the shape of the venue, with music rarely draining out the singing. And what singing! Rarely has there been a cast packed with such strong performers, clear, crisp and strength to take the roof off. Shekinah McFarlane especially stands out on this front.

However the "problem" with this show, is that there is so much talent on show to do sufficient credit. Across the twelve performers, not one is short of amazing, most surpassing that. This sort of cast is why I love theatre so much now, seeing a youthful group of performers so full of energy, but unquestionably still with so much experience to create magic and work not only so well as a team, but always look as if they are having so much fun. It translates to the audience and at the end, they need very little encouragement to be dancing on the stage.

Hair at the Hope is without doubt an amazing presentation, but also makes me sad that like a lot of theatre I see, it is so fleeting. I shall not see it again, and such is the scope of theatre, I may never see many of these performers again (although Joel Burman, who I saw in the equally amazing Xanadu, slightly disproves that). What I sadly do know, I will never see all twelve of these incredible performers together again. However what does make me extremely happy, is that I did
see it and for two and a half hours, I was witness to one of the very best shows I have had the pleasure to see.

Good Night Starshine! Peace and love to all you incredible people.

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Performance reviewed: Friday 2nd December, 2016 at the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester.

Hair runs at the Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 3rd December.


Details of the Hope Mill Theatre can be found at http://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/


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