I did have to have a little smile at the irony of going to see a rock opera about peace, love and anti establishment at a theatre in the Square Mile. But that is where I was headed on Wednesday to see GEOID’s latest production of Hair.
Hair is a product of the hippy counterculture and sexual revolution of the late 60s. It helped define the genre of “rock opera” and several of its songs became Top 10 hits as well as anthems of the anti-Vietnam peace movement. Its profanity, depiction of drug taking and free love, treatment of sexuality and THAT infamous nude scene caused much controversy. Many performances were raided by the police at the time (I liked GEOIDS tongue in cheek reference to the production’s past by bringing in a policeman at the end of the first act to announce the interval).
Though I know of a lot of the show’s songs such as “Age of Aquarius”, “Let The Sun Shine” and “(I Got No) I Got Life” (before it was used in yogurt ads), I’d never actually seen a production of the show before. I was very intrigued to see how it lived up to its hype.
GEOIDS production in a gorgeously lively affair; brightly coloured, beautifully choreographed and brilliantly sung. It requires a lot from every member of its hard working cast as no one is off the stage for any length of time and if they’re not dancing, singing, or performing rousing diatribes against their parents and conservative America, they are getting high, draped over each other or “just feeling the vibe, man”. Not once did I see a single member of cast step out of their character even if they just formed a backdrop to the main action. They also deserve to be commended for their bravery in the nude scene, and applauded for not shying away from it. It has, after all, become an integral part of the piece.
The action, dance and music blended seamlessly together to create a slick, tight production. Maybe having the choreographer (Julia Kleinsteuber-Walker) and Musical Director (Edwards Steward) as co-directors as well helped create this synergy and flow.
This was a hugely talented cast, with most members taking at least part of a song, and all had wonderful vocal talent, with soaring harmonies that filled the little theatre with a big, joyful sound. Special mention needs to go to Melisa Minton-Djoumessi for a powerful, moving, gospel inspired performance.
The “Tribe” is led by free spirit Berger, played by Barry Lattimore-Quinn. The programme notes tell me he has also played Jesus in Godspell, and it’s easy to draw parallels with the two characters; both need to be charismatic enough for the audience to not only believe this man can influence the characters to follow him but to also engage the audience to do the same. Barry achieved this; balancing the character’s arrogance, masculinity and fulsome self-belief with touches of the vulnerable and fearful.
His best friend Claude, played by Franciscus Prins must take the decision to burn his conscription papers like his friends, or bow to the pressure put on him by his parents and society to become a soldier. Initially arrogant, the pressure to conform eventually gets the better of him, leading to a tragic conclusion. Franciscus delivered a solid performance, in turns defiant, frustrated and finally defeated.
Strong support and beautiful dancing came from Lewis Simington as Woof, Tashan Nicholas as Hud and Charlie Welch as Sheila. Another stand out performance was Hannah Parker Smith as Jeanie; pregnant but in love with Claude, her performance was fun and vibrant.
Did I like Hair the show? To be honest, not really. To my mind, it’s nothing more than a collection of songs strung together with the weakest of plots and some toe-curlingly pretentious dialogue. Half the time I was rather bemused as to what the heck was going on.
However, my job is not to critique the premise of the show, but GEOIDS production of it, and in that respect I could not fault it. Slick, passionate, energetic, vibrant and joyful; the spirit of the hippy is resurrected in the heart of the City.