No ‘turn’ unstoned?  The fourteen young performers in Hair certainly give a credible impression of being out of their skulls on psychedelic substances while still managing to deliver some sharply-focused choreography and powerful vocals.

 

Everything possible has been done to convert the dank Vaults into a colourful and welcoming commune, from the beribboned ceiling in Maeve Black‘s design to the shades-of-Woodstock bar area with sawdust underfoot, to the pulsing sixties’ sound from Gareth Bretherton‘s bare-chested band. The ‘Tribe’ blends musically and writhes seductively while bathing in warm and perpetually colour-changing light in Ben M Rogers’ inviting scheme.

 

Despite the participation of the surviving co-creator Jim Rado (85) nobody in the production team is remotely old enough to remember 1967 but they recreate it with enormous enthusiasm and genuine artistry.

 

Written by actor Rado and his friend Jerry Ragni directly from their experience among New York’s hippy communes between 1964 and 1969, Hair pinpoints a singular moment in the history of youthful protest, the message of peace, love and LSD.   There’s little textual examination – this fond production serves to clarify how the ‘book’ of Hair is as empty and unenduring as the tribe’s bong-addled philosophy and visions of a future in peace and love, or to point out there’s little difference in the cultural imperialism of ‘Let’s go to Vietnam and bomb gooks’ and ‘Let’s go to India and stay permanently high.’

 

In a way, you can perceive Hair as a modern tragedy: this American generation, now in its seventies, never achieved nuclear disarmament, gun control, an end to US warmongering or even the legalization of marijuana.

 

Gossamer light on plot – a bit of rebellion against parents, some gender fluidity, a refusal to fight in Vietnam – Jonathan O’Boyle’s Hair is a slick and well-sung concert, but maybe the songs you come out humming are the ones you knew how to hum on the way in – ‘Aquarius’ and ‘Let The Sun Shine In’ still work, but in between there are 38 other numbers of varying impact and clarity as well as some awkwardness over the way women and ethnic minority characters are only peripherally present.

 

Andy Coxon leads the company as a sinuous and sinewy Berger, with a great voice balanced between rockstar and balladeer, and tremendous stage charisma.  Building on his performance in Yank! he looks like a man with a West End future.

 

Robert Metson plays confused draft-dodger Claude with real conviction, but the female characters in Hair are poorly differentiated and their songs less well-written, so most of the performers seem to have been encouraged by the musical director to lurch too quickly into their rock voice, and overpower the sketchier lyrics with technique.

 

There’s a clothing-optional (for the audience) performance coming up. I almost wished it had been on press night, the temperature in the Vaults approaches a spring afternoon in Hell.

 

Dress appropriately and take water. Or acid.

 

until 13 January 2018