Reviewed by Nela Nyczka
Upon entering the New Theatre, in Oxford, we were warmly welcomed and walked into an exciting and buzzing atmosphere. Seating was spaced and well angled so that the view was not restricted by those in front. The theatre was located in the very centre of Oxford and was extremely easy to get to being surrounded by shops, bars and many restaurants! We found that the Westgate Shopping Centre was ideal for car parking and had plenty of spaces, again located in the centre of Oxford and only a short walk to the theatre. The cost of parking was only £3.50 for the evening which for Oxford was very inexpensive bearing in mind the location!
The audience was made up of men, women and children of all ages, families and groups of friends making this an extremely accessible and a brilliant ‘all-rounder’ of a play and we were definitely not disappointed. The performance was energetic, colourful and humorous throughout and stemmed from the primary theme of the challenges many were faced with during the break down of interracial barriers.
The play was based entirely in the American state of Baltimore and was set in 1962. We were introduced to two best friends, who saw themselves as ‘outcasts’, the protagonist being Tracy Turnblad a larger than life, charismatic teenager (played by Rosie O’Hare) with her more reserved best friend Penny Pingleton (played by Annalise Liard-Bailey). The girls had a clear passion and as typical teenagers, their daily lives revolved around watching The Corny Collins Show a TV dance show who Tracy, aspired more than anything in life to join her idols and one day get the chance to show the nation what she was capable of. Her once in a life time opportunity was not too far away as due to an absence in the line-up, Tracy was thrilled that auditions for a new dancer had been advertised and she jumped at the chance to fulfil her dream! Despite many setbacks she was however successful in this and as the audience we were thrilled to go on this journey with her with some incredible highs and lows!
By watching the show, Tracy clearly had fallen for teenage heartthrob Link Larkin (played by Dan Patridge) who played a large role whilst being on The Corney Collins Show. At this time in the early 60s, the show featured only white dancers except for the last Tuesday of every month called “Negro Day”. Domineering Velma Von Tussle (played by Lucinda Lawrence) was the Manager of the WYZT station who tried anything to oust Tracy from the line up and was constantly pushing her snobby daughter Amber (played by Gemma Lawson); and also girlfriend of Link to outshine the rest of the dancers. After being absent from school to attend the audition, Tracy was given detention and she befriended Seaweed J Stubbs (played by Shak Gabbidon-Williams), the group’s best black dancer where she learned some of his most iconic dance moves. This is where the play took on a role in itself and demonstrated not only the importance of self-worth and belief but echoed just how far our society has progressed globally as a human race, accepting all regardless of age, gender and skin colour.
Without giving too much away, I would like to give a special mention to Seaweed’s mother, television DJ Motormouth Maybelle (played by Brenda Edwards) who sang some incredibly powerful and moving songs during the show. In addition to this, a scene in the second half played by Tracy’s mother Edna Turnblad (Matt Rixon) and father Wilbur Turnblad (Graham MacDuff) was especially funny due to a mishap with one of the props. There were countless musical numbers (20 songs in total), with my favourites ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ which opened the show and ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’ closing the show. There was a well-deserved standing ovation at the end, which was definitely earned as we couldn’t help ourselves getting up for a dance!
My only dislike would be that the first half was a little slow but certainly the second half clearly made up for it! I would highly recommend this show and would certainly go again. I would give a rating 4/5 only because as mentioned before the first half was not quite as enjoyable as the second half. The running time was 2 hours 30 mins including interval.
Tickets cost from £16.90 to £62.90 (plus £4 transaction fee).
Hairspray The Musical is at the New Theatre in Oxford from 18-23 June 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/oxford or call the box office on 0844 871 3020.
New Theatre Oxford, George Street, Oxford, OX1 2AG | 0844 871 3020