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Theatre Review: Hairspray

17th July 2018

Hairspray the musical, York

Hairspray the musical, York

There is nobody better to tackle difficult themes than John Waters. His “outsider” perceptions often make the ridiculous normality of life seem so vivid. His characters are the underdogs, the misrepresented sections of society, looking in to what they perceive to be mass opinion. In the instance of Water’s 1988 smash hit Hairspray offers his polarised take on integration and sadly still holds a message we recognise.

Tracy Turnblad takes centre stage. Played by the phenomenal Rosie O’Hare, she enters the waspish world of Middle America (as previously fawned over via her TV) to be ridiculed for her size, class and general individuality. I wish I could say their opinions were antiquated but play the drinking game “spot the plus size on TV” and see how sober you stay. Her brutal treatment is completely battled by her amazing talent for dancing and positive attitude. O’Hare is the epitome of this character, oozing with vivacity and apparent pleasure at her performance. The public recognise themselves in this girl, far more than the women already represented on the show, thus opening the door to race, individuality and people who don’t quite “fit the mold”.

They have a token “Negro Day” but as Tracy states “every day should be Negro Day”, often seeing superior and exciting dancing performed to rhythm and blues – this connects far more than the jukebox mannequins on the current Corny Collins (played by Jon Tsouras) show and Tracy and Corny essentially unite to make that point. Although touching on the racial themes of 60s America, it is the attitudes to these things that are the star of the play: bigots are ridiculous and antiquated views are so unhip.

The musical had already proved a hit with the 2007 film and this incredible version directed by Paul Kerryson confidently stands aside that version, in places I would even say eclipsing it.

Casting is incredible and every single person on the stage radiates talent. The bubbling energy and joy omitted from the cast made the entire production so feel good that my cheeks physically ached by the interval.

Casting is incredible and every single person on the stage radiates talent. The bubbling energy and joy omitted from the cast made the entire production so feel good that my cheeks physically ached by the interval.

Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle

Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle

Brenda Edward’s Motormouth Maybelle is incredible, her talent so magnificent you feel like you are privy to some amazing secret: she deserves every bit of her standing ovation for I Know Where I’ve Been; her incredible vocal range made you feel completely captivated. Her stage son Seaweed (played by Shak Gabbidon-Williams) is also incredible. His fluidity of movement and energy kept your eyes glued to him.

This touring production is on at The Grand Opera House until Sat 21 July and is such a treat. A genuinely feel-good production oozing with the mischief and humour of the original. I’m Pretty sure John Waters would be laughing his head off to see Middle England react to his essential ribbing of “normality”.

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