Friday, May 21, 2010

How Hair Transformed London Theatre

How Hair Transformed London Theatre

Apart from live theatre, two of my other passions in life are traveling and history.

For me, London is one of those spectacularly thrilling destinations to visit on a routine basis because it's both steeped in history and has exceptional theatre. Every now and then, those passions dovetail nicely like they did last week when I took in a performance of the current Hair revival.

While I don't think I'll ever quite get used to having to spend the equivalent of $5 simply for a stage programme (there are no complimentary Playbills to be found), better productions at least ensure that they're chock full of informative nuggets. Such is the case of the Hair programme, which describes in great detail how the earliest transfer of this show nearly 32 years ago may not have occurred at all.

The programme describes how the show first opened in London on September 27, 1968, exactly one day after the formal abolition of theatre censorship in the United Kingdom by an Act of Parliament known as the Theatres Act of 1968.

Prior to that, since 1737, the government mandated that scripts must be licensed for performance by the Lord Chamberlain's Office, which could censor virtually anything it felt was against common decency, including -- initially -- political satire. The office exercised that power forcefully, prohibiting any play "for the preservation of good manners, decorum or of the public peace."

With such strict censorship maintaining a tight grip on British norms right up through 1968, Hair could never have opened the way it did at the Shaftesbury Theatre on that September night without that Act of Parliament. Indeed, the musical's opening -- with stars Tim Curry, Elaine Paige and Paul Nicholas -- was delayed until the laws changed.

Hair forever altered the course for theatrical expression in the United Kingdom. Not only was it the first rock musical to ever freely discuss drugs and "Sodomy" on stage, but it was also the first with full frontal nudity and a mixed race cast. The show enjoyed 1,998 performances, and it only closed when the ceiling of the Shaftesbury Theatre collapsed.

And now you know the rest of the story on why Hair remains a milestone in London theatrical history.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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At 22 May, 2010, Blogger Kevin Daly said...

It seems as though you got your money's worth with this program -

An amuse bouch regarding this landmark London run: Even Princess Anne got in on the fun!

From the NY Times, April 16, 1969 (as reported by the AP) -

"Princess Anne paid a surprise visit to the American musical 'Hair' tonight and wound up dancing on stage with the cast.

The audience sat up and cheered as the 18-year-old Princess broke into a hipswinging routine, flinging her arms with abandon.

Wearing a navy blue trouser suit and white blouse, the Princess turned up at the Shaftesbury Theater with three friends, two young men and a blonde girl."

I wonder if she'll make an encore with the revival tribe...?

At 22 May, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Kevin, Thanks for that great bit of added trivia! I'll bet her initial visit created quite a sensation.


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