Arts Reviews

Hairspray @ Nottingham Theatre Royal

Goucher, Gale and Myer’s Hairspray does exactly what it says on the bottle: Nottingham’s Theatre Royal burst with colour and glitter in this feel-good, fabulous musical. Yet the rawness of the racial issues of 1960s America remains intact with the uncomfortable realities woven comfortably into the uplifting and energetic show.

The multi-coloured lights shining on the audience followed by the opening set of a ginormous psychedelic bed are the first signs of the overwhelming colours to come. I have never seen such an array of clashing costumes which would be grotesque if they didn’t match the exuberance of the overall performance; with Edna, played by Matt Rixon, being particularly memorable as a vision in pink sparkles roaming the stage.

“The set is the weakest part of the production”

Takis’ set is not as impressive as the outfits though, being fairly basic with a screen being used at the rear of the stage to project different locations. This felt rather out of place and underwhelming, but the few bold pieces such as a brick wall which opens and ejects furniture, some descending neon basketball hoops and the monstrous, purple, exploding hairspray bottle at the end of the show improve the overall aesthetic. The set is the weakest part of the production, being too minimalistic for a musical, but the singing and dancing more than made up for it.

Singing across the show is of a great standard but there are certainly some performances which stand out. Edward Chittick’s voice in ‘It Takes Two’ is flawless, totally encapsulating the smooth, seductive character of Link Larkin, and Gina Murray, as Velma Von Tussle, nails the high notes despite being lifted into the air and thrown around at the same time.

“I was thoroughly moved by this performance”

However, it is Brenda Edwards, as Motormouth Maybelle, who steals the show in the powerful song ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’. Drew Mconie’s choreography for this scene along with Richard Atkinson’s talented band and Edwards’ astoundingly soulful voice creates such a strong sense of solidarity and emotion that there was a standing ovation in the final moments of the song – an unusual phenomenon in the middle of a show. I was thoroughly moved by this performance; a definite highlight of the night.

The dancing and acrobatics of the actors are impressive throughout the musical, with Layton Williams’ effortless moves and backflips evoking cheers from the audience and the ensemble’s numbers slick and full of energy. The use of spotlights is effective in emphasising the polished dancing and choreography but it is when the mood of the show shifts towards that which is intimate and relaxed that it creates such a rapport with the audience.

“Spurred on the already hysterical laughter in the audience”

It is Matt Rixon and Norman Pace’s duet ‘You’re Timeless To Me’ that is not only heart-warming but hilarious, with the male actors playing on their gender and the relationship between their characters Edna and Wilbur in an informal manner, even breaking out of character in laughter at some points which spurred on the already hysterical laughter in the audience. The sexual innuendos and jokes passed between the two along with their believable caring relationship makes them such a dynamic and loveable duo.

Hairspray tugs at your emotions, making you feel ashamed for being associated with the despicable white characters of Amber and Velma Von Tussle and proud to be in solidarity with the oppressed men and women, whilst getting caught up in the romantic relationships throughout the musical. This show leaves you dancing in the stalls whilst reflecting on the ramifications of segregation and the power of selfless action.


Katie Moncur

Images courtesy of Nottingham Theatre Royal

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