Tuesday, April 23

Hairspray – Edinburgh Playhouse

‘Save your personal life…’ instructs Velma Von Tussle ‘… for the camera, Sweetie.’

She, back in ‘62 (OK, John Waters in the mid 80’s) had clearly seen something in a crystal ball about TV beyond the early 90’s. Despite how prescient this observation, it was soon overwhelmed by a production possessing strength, power and above all… rhythm. The dialogue – sharp and indestructible as a diamond – swung perfectly between the songs and vice versa, but where musicals can often find themselves staffed by good actors who can sing and dance a little, or good singers/dancers who can act a bit, this had a cast capable of handling it all. Of a Dick Van Dyke accent catastrophe there was barely a flicker. Not a cue nor a laugh was missed.

It’s scarcely believable that this was the professional debut of Katie Brace (Tracy Turnblad). Her performance scorched a path through the show that everyone else seemed only too willing to use; verve, adrenaline, sass, chutzpah, she sang, jumped and twisted (literally) her way through without a breath (save for when it suited one comic moment).

In her wake came Rebecca Jayne-Davis (Penny Pingleton), Alex Bourne (stepping into the huge shoes of Divine as Edna Turnblad) and Ceris Hine (trebling up as Penny’s Mum, a school Dodgeball instructor and a prison warder, each one more unhinged than the last). Was Bernadette Bangura as Motormouth Maybelle really only the understudy? She gave a magnificent ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ a tearful gravitas in the second half, her voice full of soaring, swooping emotion, supported by gospel level backing (it shouldn’t have come as a surprise given the first-half rendition of ‘Welcome To The 60’s’ by the Dynamites; Bernadette alongside Natalia Brown and Gabrielle Davina Smith).

Just prior to this the audience could contain itself no longer with an unbridled, finale-quality cheer for the Wilbur (Norman Pace) & Edna Turnblad duet ‘Without Love’, within which there was more than a snatch of deliberate (though apparently ad-libbed) comic naughtiness. Underpinning everything was the supreme quality of the sound and vocals; it was a joy to see the band – well, half of it – on a raised platform behind the action. The guitar histrionics (Aleph Aguiar) were most appropriate as the show moved towards its climax. The racket created by the audience following each of the last four songs said it all. This is a grand show, with very little to get petty about.

Playing until 19thMarch, tickets can be found at https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/hairspray-the-musical/edinburgh-playhouse/

Reviewer: Roger Jacobs

Reviewed: 14th March 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★