A BIT of so-called relief from the early starts and the late nights stalking politicians involved in the election campaign, I stepped inside the Gielgud last week for a press showing of Hair, the musical. A sucker for a good West End show, I figured I’d just be able to sit back in my seat and relax… Error. As described in this review for the Camden New Journal, the show tests your nerves as the sweaty and the hairy come clambering across the seats at you. There might actually be an insurance case in the making as they stand on the arms of chairs in the middle of the stalls. People around me loved it, but – expecting the cast, rather than the audience to be the show – this one was a loser on me. Let’s have an Overview and Scrutiny Commission revival instead.
ALL their lives they must have told mama that they dreamed of being on the West End stage. So, having landed at the Gielgud, why can’t the cast of Hair do just that: Get on the stage. And stay there. Instead, in this watch-checker revival of the famous flower-power musical – famous for the nude scene – the cast are determined to get, well, in your hair.
Clambering all over the stalls, men with bare bodies bubbling with sweat, women in beads and wigs, are intent on pestering you.
And don’t think you are safe if you are a few rows back from the stage, or in the middle of the stalls. You are probably not safe halfway back up Shaftesbury Avenue: they want to touch you, bad. I was one of the survivors, escaping the sudden lurches. Others were less unfortunate.
Chief offender I’m afraid was Will Swenson as Berger, a draft card burner, full of cringeing innuendo if anybody accidentally says “high” or “trip”. It is true that his charisma and enthusiasm carries the show in the absence of much of a storyline.
But he is an attention-seeking Billy big-jaw who looks like he is having approximately 20 times as much fun as anybody in the stalls, leaping through wings like a toddler in a pit of plastic balls.
And that’s half this review gone, talking about the actors craving to wave their knotty hair in your eyes, when the main source of debate should be how well they execute great songs like Aquarius and Ain’t Got No. The singing seems more of an afterthought.
True, the band is good, there’s a damn fine horn section, but even Let The Sunshine In, the sing-a-long finish where you only need to know the words in the title to join in, lacks any oomph. People will tell you that the anti-war protest is relevant today. But what’s the real message: that middle classes should sit around smoking reefers and shagging your mate’s girlfriend, while less articulate blue collars are sent to their deaths because they couldn’t find another vocation.
Don’t be so uptight brother, fans of the show will say. And maybe they’d have a point.
As my natural English rearguard bristled at the lack of plot and power, and the threat of compulsory audience participation, those around seemed on an ecstatic high.
The audience were not rushing to the exit at the end, they were rushing to the stage for a love-in with Berger.
Brainwashed, I harrumphed.