By Constance Drugeot
Picture: Charlotte Imber
The sun shone on London during the weekend of the 4th-6th September 2020! More precisely, on the Jetty of the Turbine Theatre, right next to the Battersea Power Station, where a production of Hair the Musical was set up.
Produced by Paul Taylor-Mills and directed by Arlene Phillips, this special outdoor concert offered an entertaining and fun break from our strange reality. The cast featured Matt Croke as George Berger, Danielle Fiamanya as Dionne, Jordan Luke Gage as Claude, Grace Mouat as Crissy, Millie O’Connell as Jeanie, Jodie Steele as Sheila, Layton Williams as Hud and Blake Patrick Harris as Woof. The show wouldn’t be complete without Musical Director Katy Richardson, Designer David Shields, Lighting and Video Designer Andrew Exeter, and Sound Designer Dan Samson.
To respect the social-distancing measures, the show was turned into a 90-minute concert with no interval. There were sections of four or two seats to keep people within their social bubbles. It wasn’t mandatory to wear a mask once on the jetty but ushers took the temperatures of every audience member before entering the area.
Upon arrival at the coaly jetty near the Turbine Theatre, I discovered that the scene was completely transformed to give it an air of America in the sixties. A flower archway ornamented the entrance to the pier and triangle party streamers were put all around. Flowers were also wrapped around streetlamps and the microphones. A big screen was installed at the back of the stage, projecting videos during the show. To stay in this bohemian atmosphere, we were sitting in blue and yellow deck chairs – or pallet chairs – and some audience members came dressed with crown flowers, glitter and long dresses. The stage in itself was covered in fake grass and was decorated with flowers, fairy lights and thrown hippy blankets. The costumes of the cast were similarly brilliant and very hippie-inspired. Of course, there were also political signs asking for peace and for the end of the war to reflect upon the theme of the show.
For those who may not know Hair – I didn’t before seeing it -, this American tribal love rock musical celebrates the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the late 1960s. Hair tells the story of a group of politically active, long-haired hippies living a bohemian life in New York City and fighting against conscription into the Vietnam War. All the while exploring identity, community, global responsibility, peace and what it is like to be a young person in an ever-changing world, it brings a joyful and free vision on life.
As soon as the show started, the jetty was filled with incredibly infectious energy and spirit. The cast arrived from the back and Danielle Fiamanya blessed us with the beautiful song “Aquarius”. The tone was set for the night and we were ready to enjoy and groove to this uplifting musical in this amazing scenery.
Everyone on that stage gave so much passion, I wanted to jump off my chair and dance. At the end of the night, my cheeks were hurting from smiling. Even though it was a concert version, the way it was staged made perfect sense and, with the help of the screen in the background and stunning lighting, it was easy to follow the story and the characters. It felt like we were at a music festival and at the theatre at the same time. We were living the story as if we were in it, both audience and performer. It was an incredible feeling.
According to the smiles of the performers on stage, we were not the only ones feeling that energy. Jordan Luke Gage was standing in the middle of the scene, looking positively ecstatic. He really got into the hippie look and his character was both funny and touching. His performance of ‘Manchester England’ was very entertaining, and the audience was really involved in his story up to the end. Jodie Steele seemed to be born to play the role of Sheila. Her performance was incredible and uplifting. Her rendition of ‘I Believe in Love’ was simply gorgeous. She was so at ease with her character and everyone could feel it.
Danielle Fiamanya opened up the show beautifully with ‘Aquarius’ and kept the passion throughout the show with fiery energy and stunning vocals. Millie O’Connell played an amazing Jeanie and gave her all during her performance. Her acting and dancing moves were a sight! Matt Croke as Berger was the drive of the show, starting with a great and funny rendition of ‘Donna’. Grace Mouat shone on that stage and blessed us with her gorgeous voice and captivating presence throughout the concert. Blake Patrick Harris and Layton Williams were both incredible as Woof and Hud and lit up the stage with their dance moves and brilliant performances.
This cast was chosen perfectly and everyone seemed to have the time of their life up on that stage. It was electrifying to see!
This was the perfect show to lift our spirits and make us enjoy live theatre once again. The strong message it carries out inspired us and gave us hope for the future. We must believe that something better is coming. Because theatre is alive!