Theatre Review: Hairspray

Words: Summaya Mughal
Friday 16 February 2018
reading time: min, words

This week Hairspray: The Musical hit the stage of Nottingham’s Theatre Royal so we headed on over to check it out...


Set in 1960s Baltimore, the story follows Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and massive ambition, as she chases her dream of dancing on national TV with The Nicest Kids in Town. On the way however, Tracy finds herself faced with the challenge of institutional racism as she fights for black and white teenagers to be able to dance on the show together.

You feel part of the performance from the get go, as multi-coloured spotlights dance their way over the audience in anticipation of the opening number, Good Morning Baltimore. And what a number it is. There’s colour everywhere, from the costumes to the characterisation of the performers. Male dancers in pink, orange, purple, and green suits take to the stage with hair slicked to their skulls followed by girls with hair kept buoyant with an ungodly amount of backcombing and hairspray. Come scene two, The Nicest Kids in Town, the set opens up to reveal the musicians grafting in the pit. This is a number where you fully appreciate the sheer stamina of the cast as they marathon through another creatively choreographed, energetic and slickly-executed performance.

As the play progresses we’re introduced to Tracy’s love, Link Larkin, played by Edward Chitticks who, though a very handsome chappy indeed, also has a rather lovely voice, displayed in I Can Hear the Bells. As far as mad singing skills go, Chitticks is not alone. The award for “the voice which just about did the roof in” goes to Motormouth Maybelle, played by Brenda Edwards. Edwards’ rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been addresses the struggle of institutional racism head on, as she sings of the “dream in the future” and “the struggle [we] have yet to win”. It’s a powerful number which left the audience on their feet. Yes, she got a bleeding well-deserved standing ovation.

Singing is not the only category this cast smashed. Seaweed, played by Layton Williams, shone through with his dancing. He was just about bouncing off the walls, but then again, he did play Billy Elliot on the West End.

Tracy’s parents, Edna and Wilbur, played by Matt Rixon and Norman Pace delivered a thoroughly enjoyable duet that had them in tears of laughter. At times you wondered if they’d even make it to the end of the piece, but they were kept afloat through the struggle by the audience cheering them on.

Everything about Hairspray is vibrant and completely over the top. The set, costumes, characters, choreography and singing is well thought-out and slick, and though set against a politically controversial backdrop, it’s kept fun, lively and light-hearted. By the end, you’ll be on yer feet bobbin your head and shaking yer bum. All in all, it’s a ruddy good show, so make sure you don’t miss it.

Hairspray: The Musical is on at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 24 February, 2018.

Nottingham Theatre Royal website

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