The news, whether your orbiter of choice is TV and radio, social media or the good old fashioned press, tends to go in trends. At any given time there is a few ‘popular’ stories or themes. It can seem that those who make our news jump on these trends and spend a good amount of their waking time trying to shoe horn any story into one of the on-trend topics.
We can see this currently, Brexit, Trump, #MeToo, racial tensions, the obesity crisis vs fat shaming and snow.
Don’t worry, you’ve not clicked on the wrong page. This is indeed a review of Hairspray at Bristol Hippodrome. The thing is though, given that the story was written more than two decades ago and is set in the swinging sixties, it is remarkably en-pointe with the current phase of the news cycle.
If you’re easily offended by dramatisation of some of the darker sides of the human spirit, Hairspray isn’t for you, unless of course you, like, totally get it when the odious Velma Von Tussle explains that “I’m no bigot, I like Sammie Davis and he’s both black and a Jew”.
The story revolves around two interlinked plots, plus sized Tracy Turnblad is desperate to dance and be a part of the crew on the Corny Collins Show whilst the local black dancers want to be allowed on TV more than once a month. Tracy and Seaweed, whose portrayal by Layton Williams (Beautiful People and Bad Education) stole the show, meet in detention and their stories become linked, whilst Tracy is trying, of course, steel the heart of the shows male dancing lead Link Larkin.
Tracy is played by Rebecca Mendoza, who is making her professional debut having graduated last July, not that you’d have guessed, she plays wonderfully straight forward Tracy well, although the popcorn candy American accent in the dialogue was not for me I suspect this was as directed.
What follows is wonderful mix of humour and song, interlinked with the occasional double-entendre. One scene saw a touching duet between Tracy’s parents, with Mum played by Matt RIxon and Dad by comedy veteran Norman Pace. This was the scene of the show for me, made by a bit of corpsing from Pace brought on by a suggestive line in the song and apparent failure of a prop. I’ll tell you what, the few minutes that followed, as Pace and Rixon belted their way through the song, saw a mix of storyline merged with (it seemed to me) hilarious adlib from two great actors having the time of their lives. Sat in the audience, I know we were.
This show was great, it really was, the audience was packed with old and young, although for me there were a smattering of patrons too young for this particular show, and we loved it. Loud cheers greeted some of the stand out moments and the standing ovation at the end featured many of the audience dancing along to the finale.
But, and it’s a big but, I cannot lie, there was a moment that gave me chills, actual real life chills in the stifling Hippodrome. We met Motormouth Maybelle just before the inverval. Shortly she launched into Big, Blonde and Beautiful with Rixon and my god was it good. There is a type of voice that only a black woman can have, sultry and raw, smooth and belting and my god has actress Brenda Edwards (semi-finalist in X-factor 2005) got it, it’s a gift and she uses it well. I’ve read that she has an album on iTunes, Bring it Back, if last night was anything to go by then buy it, buy it now.
If you love the sixties, with its mix of crooners and mo-town and colour and dance, and if you aren’t offended by the clichéd stereotyping that was rife in the swinging decade, and is not a million miles from our newscasts today, then go and watch Hairspray this week, you’ll not regret it.