When theatres were given the go ahead to resume with social distancing and other safety measures in place, creatives in the creative industry had to test their creativity. One of if not THE most creative solution came from Paul Taylor-Mills, artistic director of the Turbine Theatre. His brilliant idea was to move the theatre outside, setting up a new stage on the jetty outside the theatre. And thus, the genius season that is 'Turbine On The Jetty' was born.
When the season was first announced, the most exciting show in the line up was a new production of Hair featuring a dream cast of some of the West ends finest. Tickets sold out in a heartbeat, and I was lucky enough to go to the first performance.
Hair tells the story of a group of politically active hippies collectively known as "the tribe". The show combines the sexual revolution of the 1960s with the backdrop of the Vietnam war and the looming threat of being conscripted into it. This production keeps most of the elements of the show, but as it is a concert, strips back (not in the way this show usually strips) some of the trickier elements of the show.
The first thing to talk about with this production is the setting. The use of outdoor settings to bring theatre back during this pandemic has seen some beautiful backdrops. While few places can compare to the stunning Minack theatre in Cornwall, watching a show with a view of the Thames and the famous skyline is as close as we can get in London. The stage itself, while small, did its job of setting the scene to make us believe we were in the 60s. The cast utilised every inch of it (while maintaining social distancing) and even ventured out into the audience for parts of the show. A giant screen behind played videos correlating to the songs including animation or footage of real events. The setting also led to some fantastic echoes, making the scene where Matthew Croke's Berger shouts at an unsuspecting Sheila all the more powerful.
The show may itself be over 50 years old and set in the era of the late 1960s but that didn't stop its themes being strangely relevant. From the opening sound of Donald Trumps voice (always terrifying) to footage of current problems such as climate change, this production transcended the timelines, keeping it firmly rooted in the 1960s while bringing it up to date.
What was undoubtedly the most exciting part of these revival was the cast. Bringing together eight of the most talented people from musical theatre from shows as diverse as Everybody's Talking About Jamie, Be More Chill, &Juliet and Six was a stroke of genius. I have never seen such a strong cast in such close proximity to eachother - it really was a joy to behold.
It's difficult to single out any of the performers as they all did fantastic jobs taking it in turns to take centre stage. Layton Williams embodied Hud as he showed off his talents, dancing around the stage, soon to be understudying the role of Elsa in Frozen, Danielle Fiamanya displayed an exceptional voice, Six queens Grace Mouat and Millie O'Connell played the roles of Crissy and Jeanie, channelling their characters perfectly, while Aladdin star Matthew Croke played a brilliant Berger, whether he was flirting with the audience or seducing his fellow cast members, he ensured your eyes never strayed away from him for too long.
Jordan Luke Gage took us on an emotional journey as Claude, a character torn between his own beliefs and what he is told is his duty to the country. Various other characters in the show were in love with him and so were the audience, it seems. From Bat Out Of Hell to &Juliet, Jordan has acquired a devoted fantasise and it's easy to see why - his voice, charisma and talent is out of this world. Blake Patrick Anderson has had a pretty good year (well, as good as you can get in 2020 anyway), playing the role of Michael in Be More Chill. In Hair he plays Woof as well as a cameo from "Margaret" and steals the scenes. Of all the performers on stage, Blake was somebody I felt embodied his character more thoroughly - I couldn't help my eyes going back to see what he was doing even when others were performing. He may have come to our attention recently but Blake is a star in the making and will go far in this industry.
Last but certainly not least was Jodie Steele. Jodie is a powerhouse performer and has recently played the roles of Katherine Howard in Six and an unforgettable performance as Heather Chandler in Heathers. Here she not only steals the scene, she runs away with it! Her performance of 'Easy to be hard' was one of the standouts of the night. Jodie is an exceptional performer who excels in everything she is cast in - an amazing singer and incredible actress, there really is no end to her talents.
Hair boasts some iconic songs, from 'The Age of Aquarius' to 'Good Morning Starshine' to the title track 'Hair', some of these songs have become a staple in popular culture. Even some of the more bizarre and less memorable songs are performed with such pizazz, it is hard not to enjoy them from what they were. It may have been a cold night in London when I saw it but the cast singing the joyous finale ''Let The Sunshine In' brought a much needed bit of warmth to the occasion.
Hair has never been one of my favourite shows. The last production I saw of it several years ago didn't connect with me. Even though this one stripped some of the elements back, I found joy and hope in it. Perhaps it's those long months we went without theatre has given me a new appreciation for shows I might not have originally given a chance, but this time around I fell in love with Hair. While social distancing and that pesky pandemic may have meant the cast couldn't interact with the audience or dance with them during the finale like this show famously does, it didn't take away from what was a brilliant evening.
Between the cast, the production, the creative team and the staging of this, Hair at the Turbine Theatre (on the Jetty) was an absolute triumph. It made the most of its small space and safety restrictions to create an incomparable atmosphere. Unfortunately, the limited season of four performances has now come and gone but let's hope there is more life to this show as this is a production more people need to see.