Hairspray, Bristol Hippodrome

ON the face of it, Hairspray is just a lightweight bit of fun – especially a production like this one, that fully captures the feel of the 1960s, with back-combed beehive hair styles and clothes to match.

But lurking just below the surface are the prejudices of racism that prevent black dancers even auditioning for a TV show, and the unthinkable idea that a white girl and black boy could fall in love.

It’s all wrapped up in a bright, well-presented production, that benefits no end from the presence, on a bridge at the back of the stage, of eight live and lively musicians.

Without sacrificing any of the fun, this show happily faces the racism issues head on. That part of the story is brought to a head by Brenda Edwards’ powerful and passionate singing of I Know Where I’ve Been.

Her Record Shop owner Motormouth Maybelle is a lady who has learned to live with prejudice, but is prepared to go into battle any time to defend her dancing son, Seaweed (Shaquille Brush), and daughter Little Inez, a loveable mite in the hands of Charlotte St Croix.

Equally fierce in their support of their pleasantly plump teenage daughter Tracy, who dreams of becoming a dancing star on TV, are Edna and Wilbur Turnblad. Following tradition, Alex Bourne plays the plus-sized Edna in drag, and with the diminutive Norman Pace forms a redoubtable comic duo.

Changing the musical mood from the 1960s back to Twice Nightly Variety with a number that befits their ages, they milked the audience dry as they turned You’re Timeless to Me into a show-stopping comedy number.

At the heart of the show is the story of teenager Tracy Turnblad, moving from naive innocence to a realisation that life is a little more complex than that, and finding romance on the way. You could believe in Katie Brace’s Tracy all the way, and enjoy the drive and enthusiasm she put into her boisterous and romantic numbers.

Willing when necessary to act as support, rather than lead, Ross Clifton was a fine romantic partner as local TV heartthrob Link Larkin.

Another convincing romantic duo was forged in face of opposition by Zoe Heighton and Saquille Brush as Tracy’s zany friend Penny Pengleton and her black boyfriend Seaweed. A great deal of the prejudice came from Rebeca Thornhill’s bullying TV producer Velma Von Tussle, showing she was no vocal back number, greedily taking her limited opportunities with both hands. Jessica Croll was suitably immature as her easily led daughter Amber.

Another who grabbed determinedly at their limited opportunities was Richard Meek as the big headed local TV front man, Corny Collins.

This lively production is now off on a tour of the country returning to the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, from 17th to 29th January 2022, Cardiff {New Theatre] from 14th to 19th February and Poole Lighthouse, 28th February to 5th March.


Posted in Reviews on .