The 60s have come to Edinburgh as the Broadway and West End hit, Hairspray, embarks on a UK-wide tour. Set in the early 1960s during a turbulent period in American history, Hairspray tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a teenage girl from Baltimore. Tracy aspires to be a dancer on the ‘Corny Collins Show’, which typically features the attractive, slim, white teens of Baltimore. When she finally earns her part on the show, Tracy becomes a local celebrity overnight and attempts to integrate the show. Hairspray addresses some of the social injustices of 1960s America as it tackles not only civil rights and segregation but also beauty as Tracy faces a lot of opposition from members of the Corny Collins show because she does not have the right ‘look’. However, despite these serious undertones of Hairspray, it does not stop it from being fun, simply brings it into reality.
The set was astonishing with the smooth transitions easily transporting the audience from the more modest places like the Turnblad household to the local jail. One of the most incredible pieces of set was that of the Corny Collins show. This consisted of a TV screen at the back of the stage underneath a platform upon which the band sat, this gave the actual feeling of a 60s TV show set. As a whole, the set design added to the fun of the show and with every scene change an entirely new dynamic was brought to the show keeping the audience in constant awe.
Philip Gladwell’s lighting design provided another layer to the fun 60s feel of the show. From initially entering the theatre the audience is hit with the 60s vibe from the tasteful technicolour lights around the theatre. Whilst it is easy to go overboard with trying to create a 60s vibe, Gladwell’s design perfectly complimented the set design and fun on stage. Similarly the use of haze during ‘I Can Hear the Bells’ contrasted with the other segments of the show and perfectly demonstrated Tracy’s dream sequence as she imagined a life with her crush and dancer on the show, Link Larkin.
For a show like Hairspray the choreography is central to the narrative and Drew McOnie’s choreography was flawless. Every dancer was in time which is even more commendable due to the length of some of the dance numbers and had the audience wanting to join in from start to finish. Likewise the costume design by Takis also added to the feeling of the 60s with many glamourous outfits throughout the show which I couldn’t take my eyes off.
A particular highlight of the show for me was the duet between Edna and Wilbur Turnblad (played by Tony Maudsley and Peter Duncan respectively), ‘You’re Timeless to Me’. Not only was it a flawless performance but it also contained some subtle yet cheeky adult humour which, although going over the heads of the younger members of the audience, made the audience break out in laughter. Similarly the finale song, ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’ provided a fun ending to the show, with many actors coming from and going into the audience which made the audience feel involved and the performance even more enjoyable.
Freya Sutton (Tracy Turnblad) portrayed the eager teenager perfectly and Natasha Mould as Penny provided many moments of unexpected comedy. However, Brenda Edwards as Miss Motormouth Maybelle stole the show with her performance of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’, shocking the audience with her voice and earning huge cheers of applause.
Overall this production of Hairspray earned the standing ovation it got and was one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen. It was fun and fresh from start to finish, every aspect of the show was flawless and I would thoroughly recommend it to everyone!