Easy Extensions and free love: Hair #jointhetribe @thevaultsuk

Last week marked the fiftieth anniversary of Hair. It's the original rock / concept musical about hippies, the anti-war movement and Western hypocrisy. And with this slick and seductive production, you would have to be a member of the alt-right to not want to join the tribe and get up and dance.

The cast, the music, the production and the performances make this not just a must see show, but one that deserves repeat viewings. You get a sense of the freshness and fun that must have amazed and shocked audiences fifty years ago.

The underground space of The Vaults at Waterloo have been transformed into an immersive enclave for the alternative. There's a strong ensemble cast with seductive vocals (and bodies). There's also a terrific sound from the band under the music direction of Gareth Bretherton.

From the moment the piece opens with the song Aquarius, sung at full belt by Shekinah McFarlane, it's a non-stop ride. And it's hard not to groove along to songs you may already know but didn't appreciate they're from Hair.

It's less a story but an exploration of religion, sex, war and race. There's Berger (Andy Coxon), who is the free spirit of the tribe of young people. They're protesting against conscription and a lot more. Mostly its about the loss of the American dream at the expense of the military industrial complex. Where you're a number. And fodder for fighting war, not for being free to do what you wish.

The irony that a young group of hippies are the true patriots of America is a key point in this show. His girlfriend is Sheila (Laura Johnson), a university activist. And there is his close friend Claude (Robert Metson) who has just got his draft card. Claude's struggle about what to do then becomes the central focus of the piece.

There's a vulnerability to the characters too. Despite all the free love and fun there is uncertainty and anxiety. It culminates in the first act finale song Where Do I Go, where they are all exposed. When first staged, this nudity was controversial. But naked and uncertain, it isn't titillating. It feels very human. Although for a show set in 1967, there's quite a bit of manscaping and lady-gardening going on in this production.

Hair the musical also reminds of of a time when protests and disagreement could exist without violence. There are no safe spaces or shut down of campuses. And battles may be lost but the war of ideas is ongoing. And that's worth fighting for.

Directed by Jonathan O'Boyle, Hair the musical is at The Vaults until 13 January. Grab your best kaftan and go.


Photos by Claire Bilyard

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