You may remember that I visited the Hope Mill Theatre at the start of the year for the Girl Gang Manchester Mean Girls event – it's a fantastic little hidden gem of a venue, so when I saw that their upcoming theatre programme was so exciting, I knew I'd be going back. Before heading over to the theatre, we opted to try Rudy's Neapolitan Pizza for a pre-show dinner. I’d heard an awful lot about Rudy’s, as it has been touted as one of Ancoats' most notable independent eateries and declared by many as “the best pizza they have ever eaten”. I have to say, that’s not far off the mark. The whole place is beautifully simple, from the tastefully minimal decor to the menu which holds a few choice selections rather than overwhelming you with options. The prices are very reasonable and overall, I was incredibly impressed. They don't take reservations so be prepared to wait if it's busy, but trust me it's totally worth it!
From there, we moved over to the theatre and it was just as lovely as I remembered it being; the whole place has a chilled out, friendly vibe and the bar area is really cosy. It's the perfect place for enjoying a drink and a bite to eat before the show - something to make the most of with this production as the theatre seating is unreserved, so it pays to be there in plenty of time. Ticket holders are admitted in batches and the theatre itself is a really intimate space. I doubt that there would be a bad seat anywhere in the house, since you'd never be more than a few feet from the performers.
Hair tells the story of a 'tribe' of hippies living a bohemian lifestyle in 1967 New York, fighting the expectations of conservative society as well as conscription into the Vietnam War. The central narrative follows Claude, as he struggles with the decision to either resist the draft or succumb to the pressure of compromising his principles and risking his life in Vietnam. The action takes place on a thrust stage which runs the length of the room, with the five piece band situated upstage. There is no set to speak of, just the innovative use of a few props to create different scenes. This minimal approach to the staging helps to really focus in on the performers and the message that they are putting across.
This production is particularly effective due to the intimacy of the venue, as it brings an extra level of vitality to the immense energy emitted by the cast of twelve. You are completely immersed in the characters' world from the offset and this makes the emotionally charged moments of the show particularly hard-hitting. Many of the themes of the musical are - unfortunately - just as relevant today as they were when the piece was originally performed in protest against the , and the ideas of political activism, racial conflict and striving for a peaceful compassionate society are particularly poignant when considered in the light of recent world events. This parallel is subtly referenced at the very start of the piece before the cast launch into the famous opening number, The Age of Aquarius.
Robert Metson is an excellent Claude, really capturing the character's indecision and thinly veiling it with his attempts to put on a show of rebellion for the other members of his tribe. While his is the central plot, this is a truly stunning ensemble performance with an incredibly talented cast who work phenomenally together, all delivering very honest characterisations and incredible vocals. Every aspect of the production comes together beautifully to create a really effective piece of theatre.
I left the performance feeling energised and elated, and I am already trying to plan another trip before it closes at the start of December. Tickets can be found here, and I urge everyone to support this amazing production - I am confident that you won't regret it! Even if you're not particularly familiar with the show you'll certainly recognise a few of its more famous songs, and its message of community and compassion is just as important now as it was nearly fifty years ago. It's vital that, no matter what's going on, we remember to "let the sun shine in".
Have you seen any really good theatre productions lately? Will you be getting tickets for this one? Let me know in the comments!