There are some performances you watch that simply ooze ‘showbiz buzz’. For me, Hairspray is one of them – it provides all the buzz and more; and Birmingham Hippodrome’s latest production, directed by Paul Kerryson, didn’t disappoint.
It successfully intertwines corny music (music director: Ben Atkinson), evocative lighting (lighting director: Philip Gladwell) and psychedelic patterning (costume designer: Takis) alongside a political message that is still achingly relevant today; and for me, that’s the epitome of what theatre should be.
Set in the 1960s, the story follows big-hearted, big haired, big dreamer Tracy Turnblad who dances her way onto national TV and into the arms of teen idol Link Larkin. As a budding star she uses her newfound fame to fight for liberation, tolerance, and interracial unity in Baltimore – and all without denting her ‘do.
It is particularly interesting watching it in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and how, even 20 years after the show’s record-breaking Broadway debut, the racial discussions still feel incredibly pertinent. I found myself watching through a more defined lens, especially in scenes that discussed police brutality.
This political awareness is heightened by set design (assembled by Takis) and the employment of stage projections that depict photographs of 1960s race protests. By incorporating this verbatim-esque aspect to the production, it felt more symbolic, intensifying scenes to be more powerful and poignant. This strong message is aided by the eloquent lighting throughout; the washes of vibrant reds and bright colouring heightened a layer of significance to freeze-frames, creating an atmosphere of strength and intensity that translates impeccably to the audience.
The joy of Hairspray lies undoubtedly with its cheesy songs. Even if musicals aren’t your thing it’s impossible not to enjoy it, and even the most anti-musical theatre goers amongst us will catch themselves smiling along throughout. With this, the ambience of entertainment is further exuberated by the vibrancy of the costumes in unison with the animation of the wonderful actors and actresses.
The whole performance is so comforting in its pleasure and feels truly old-school in its music. Even when the songs are illustrating the critical reality of society’s entrenched racism, it is done in such a clever way that it feels empowering rather than overbearing. Thus, I left the theatre with enthusiasm and excitement for what I had just watched.
Hairspray cannot be faulted – especially the Hippodrome’s execution – and I couldn’t have pictured a more delightful evening. This felt synonymous for the audience as a collective; we finished the night off with a standing ovation and an appreciation for theatre as a political art form.
Hairspray runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday October 2nd. For more information and tickets click here.