Review: ‘An energetic and mesmerising musical treat’ ★★★★ Hair, The Vaults

Unlike other critics, I don’t have multiple memories of watching the rock musical Hair. In fact, my only previous experience of the show was from watching the film as a teenager and I was so underwhelmed that I have actively shunned it for years. But after hearing great things about Jonathan O’Boyle’s 50th anniversary revamp at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester, the transfer to the Vaults Theatre became a more appealing prospect.

And packed into the dingy bowels beneath Waterloo station I found a show full of life. Performed in a semi immersive manner – the audience surrounding the playing area frequently makes up part of the action – the musical is executed to perfection by an extremely talented young cast.

Hair follows a group of disillusioned young hippies in the late sixties, who are struggling with the prospect of being conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. We are shown the moral battle of one in particular, Claude (played with an extraordinary subtly by Robert Metson) who – along with his tribe of peace-loving friends – expostulates the merits of going to war. Should he be a patriot (and honour his family) or stick to his own guns (if you’ll pardon the pun), burn his draft card and stay in America to protest for peace?

The story is really pretty flimsy and the effort to bring it up to date with some audio of recent politics doesn’t really fit. But it’s the music that’s the real winner in this show and with a fantastic band (led by Gareth Bretherton) filling the dungeon-like auditorium with soft-rock melodies, you feel as if you’re in a trendy club. Songs like “Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine In” are given a renewed energy by William Whelton’s electrifying choreography, which has elements of pastiche mixed with more modern movements to give an affectionate nod to previous incarnations.

And when it’s performed by the tremendous cast – with vigour and conviction – the result is an energetic and mesmerising musical treat.

Hair is running at the Vaults Theatre until 13 January

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Nicky’s Showbiz Diary: Critiquing a show you don’t like is a tough job

It’s always difficult to critique a show you know you don’t like. After I’ve seen a couple of versions of something and have been unimpressed by it, I then try my best to avoid future presentations.

For example, I’ve managed to completely sidestep the new West End production of Annie – starring Miranda Hart – and with the announcement this week that Craig Revel Horwood is to take over the role of Miss Hannigan; I will continue to actively avoid the Piccadilly Theatre until something more interesting comes along. It’s not that I don’t like Craig – he is a really lovely person – but having seen Annie six times within the last two years and previously witnessed his portrayal in the touring production, I know I can manage without another viewing.

There are lots of other shows too, which I would quite happily never see again like South Pacific (in my opinion, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s worse show), 42nd Street (rubbish story and a dull score) and The Sound of Music (or the Sound of Mucus as I call it). It’s not that it’s a bad musical, but I’ve just seen it far too many times and have started to hope that a curtain call is on Maria’s list of ‘favourite things’.

There are also highly acclaimed shows that I just don’t get, like Ragtime, Godspell and Into the Woods, and loads of plays, which – with my limited intellect – I struggle to understand. Some are just far too worthy for this working class girl and I therefore find them extremely difficult to write about.

There are occasionally things that surprise me however, like last year’s Regent Park Open Air Theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar. After being part of a detestable amateur production, I despised the classic rock opera, but Tim Sheader’s fab adaptation made me see it through fresh eyes.

I also had my mind changed by Evita last week. I have previously called the musical ‘excreta’ – such was my loathing of it – but after seeing Emma Hatton in the leading role at the Phoenix Theatre I found myself willing to give the story another go.

I am yet to watch any Gilbert and Sullivan operetta however without feeling the need to cry in desperation and don’t get me started on village pantomimes (I endure an average of 15 each season!).

Gosh, it sounds like I don’t like anything doesn’t it? There are lot and lots of shows I love – which is why I’m so lucky to do what I do – and I also get to discover new things, which I wouldn’t ordinarily choose.

Anyway, I had another fab evening at Alice’s Adventures Underground last week (a real recommendation); I finally watched Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (very good) and enjoyed Evita (a bit!). I also interviewed former Wicked star Idriss Kargbo, who is working on one of my real favourites, Five Guys Named Moe – which will open at the new popup theatre at Marble Arch next month – and I went to the launch of the new season at the New Wimbledon Theatre and had a chat with Kara Lily Hayworth, who will play Cilla Black in the new stage show about the singer’s life.

This week I’m off to interview Carley Stenson – who is currently playing Fantine in Les Misérables (love it!) – at the Queen’s Theatre and then I’m heading down to Underbelly Festival to see Velma Celli’s Iconic: A Brief History of Drag, with special guests Kerry Ellis and Jessie Wallace. I’m then talking to RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Jinkx Monsoon, before chatting to Emma Hatton about her illustrious career and her sensational performance in Evita.

You can follow me on Twitter for regular updates @NickySweetland

ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND for children aged 5 to 10 returns to the Vaults

Les Petits Theatre Company and ebp in association with Creature of London are bringing “ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND” back to the Vaults beneath Waterloo station later this  month. The critically acclaimed immersive theatre experience created and directed specifically for children aged 5 to 10 returns from 13 May 2017 to 3 September 2017.

Pushing the boundaries of children’s theatre “ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND” allows families to explore Wonderland up close, in an immense multi-room set in the Vaults under Waterloo station. In this hour long show, children will play a part in controlling their own experience, as they search for Alice, who is missing in Wonderland. On entering Wonderland you will either ‘Eat me’ or ‘Drink Me’, which determines your unique path. Tumble with the Tweedle twins; follow the White Rabbit and take Tea with the Hatter at the Maddest Tea Party of all!

“ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND” was originally conceived as a celebration of the 150thanniversary of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and is adaptedfor the stage by Oliver Lansley and Anthony Spargo and directed by Emma Earle.

The cast consists of Benedict Chambers (Twelfth Night, Mr Popper’s Penguins, Adventures in Wonderland), Adam Collier (The Railway Children, Henry V, Adventures in Wonderland), Liam Harkins (Captured, Love of the Nightingale), Susanna Jennings (The Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie, The Gruffalo), Hannah Miller (Blackbird, Peter Pan), Chandni Mistry (A Colder Water Than Here, Wonderful Wizard of Oz), Angelina Reilly-Szostak (Goosebumps Alive, Adventures in Wonderland) and Noah Young (Mary Rose, What Lovely Weather).

Emma Earle is a director and producer, and associate director Les Enfant Terribles, she is also the co-Artistic director of Pins and Needles.  For Pins and Needles, Emma is developing a new adaptation of The Little Mermaid with writer Bea Roberts. The show premieres this Christmas at the egg theatre in Bath.

Her adaptations of Mr Popper’s Penguins (New York/West End) and Raymond Briggs’ books The Bear and Father Christmas are being remounted in 2017.

Emma’s credits for Les Enfants Terribles include: Dinner At The Twits’, The Fantastical Flying Exploratory Laboratory, The Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie, Captain Flinn And The Pirate Dinosaurs, and Ernest And The Pale Moon.

Read our five star review of the grown-up version of the show  Alice’s Adventures Underground 

Adventures in Wonderland runs at the Vaults from 13 May until 3 September. 

KING KONG set to terrorise London this summer!

The Vaults beneath Waterloo station will be overrun this summer by an enormous ape when the South London venue hosts the World premiere of a monstrous new comedy based on King Kong. Daniel Clarkson, who is the Olivier Award-nominated co-creator of the global smash hit, Potted Potter, has adapted the classic ape story.

5 actors and no high-tech wizardry – but lots of laughs!

Ever since Fay Wray first charmed the great gorilla in the original 1933 film, King Kong has been a byword for epic cinema, challenging successive filmmakers to outdo the last with bigger and better special effects to impress and terrify audiences in equal measure.

Now a new comic theatrical staging of the story takes a very different approach, as you’d expect from writer Daniel Clarkson (co-creator of worldwide hit Potted Potter) and director Owen Lewis, who between them have three Olivier Award nominations.

With just 5 actors and no high-tech wizardry, Kong will come to new life for theatre audiences in the atmospheric surroundings of The Vaults tunnels underneath London’s Waterloo Station.

Follow our intrepid cast as they journey to uncharted waters in search of the Eighth Wonder of the World – a gorilla so enormous he instils fear in all who set eyes on him. As hunter becomes the hunted, our story takes us to the iconic skyline of New York City and one burning question must be answered: just how many bananas should we order in?

King Kong will terrorise The Vaults this summer from Thursday 22 June – Sunday 27 August.

Press are invited to attend any show from Friday 30 June with reviews embargoed to 10pm on Tuesday 4 July – Independence Day!

Cast to be announced.

Writer Daniel Clarkson said: “As a self​-​confessed cinephile I’m a huge fan of the original 1933 classic King Kong, and have wanted for some time to ​
reimagine it in all its glory as a spoof comedy for the stage. ​This has proved to be a fantastic challenge, perhaps even trickier than when I crammed all 7
Harry Potter books into 70 minutes for Potted Potter! That show has travelled the world including West End and New York runs, and I hope that we can have a similarly exciting future for this production after its humble beginnings this summer at The Vaults. We recently workshopped the script with the incredibly talented director Owen Lewis, and our brilliant cast​ – based on what we saw there,​I think that audiences are in for something really special when we unleash this beast in June!”

Review: “This adventure makes a perfect night out” ★★★★★ Alice’s Adventures Underground

The Vaults at Waterloo are an unusual and pretty spooky venue and as such provide the perfect backdrop for an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, writes Nicky Sweetland.

Carroll’s beloved tale itself blends the fantastical with the sinister and Les Enfants Terribles’ Alice’s Adventures Underground goes even further to establish a world where you don’t ever feel quite comfortable but at the same time totally exhilarated.

First performed at The Vaults back in 2015 the Olivier Award nominated immersive experience has received an overhaul and introduced 10 new characters and a different layout in order to make audiences feel completely submerged within the fairytale world from the very first moment they enter.

The bar area alone is a work of art, with a black and white forest and multilevel lounge area where you can sup on one of the specially designed cocktails. In fact, you can even buy edible cocktails if you are feeling more of an ‘eat me’ rather ‘drink me’ vibe going on.

Your penchant for consuming either liquid or solid is eventually how you choose your path around the myriad of tunnels and fascinating subterranean hallways, as after a brief mooch around the study – which is filled with so much detail you could spend hours pouring over the intricate design – you are invited to fall down the rabbit hole and select your pathway into Wonderland.

The experience you then receive is a mixture of theatrical performances, theme park fun and circus tricks, but all in perfect measure, so as to ensure the pace is always maintained and the 90 minutes flies by.

You can even join in with some crazy speed dating or have a game of Flamingo croquet in the bar afterwards to make the adventure last a bit longer.

Beautifully designed and wonderfully performed this adventure makes a perfect night out.

Alice’s Adventures Underground is at The Vaults until 23 September