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Review: Hairspray at Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle

The amateurs of West End Operatic Society put on a bit of a (hair) do at Tyneside's oldest theatre

West End Operatic Society's production of Hairspray
West End Operatic Society's production of Hairspray

Hairspray at Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle, until Saturday

Never work with children or animals, grunted veteran American actor WC Fields. To which he might have added big wigs and beachballs.

As demonstrated here on opening night, the former are liable to end up on the stage and the latter in the orchestra pit.

Never mind. Aniella Lucia, making her am dram debut here as Tracy Turnblad, dealt beautifully with the errant hairpiece, raising an unscripted and sympathetic laugh.

If one of the musicians had had the decency to return the ball, there might have been another. Instead a spell of mimed dodgeball gave rise to spasmodic sniggers.

These things happen on opening nights. During the second performance, with the Tracy role passed to alternating co-star Melissa Cavanagh, no doubt all ran smoothly and the gremlin in the sound system, turning some spoken words to crackle, will have been chivvied to the exit.

This is the stage musical based on the John Waters film of 1988 (and which in turn spawned a second film in 2007). It was an enomous hit on Broadway and later in London’s West End.

It’s a bit of an oddball, a humorously upbeat treatment of a community – Baltimore, Maryland, 1962 – where segregation between black and white citizens is still ingrained and any form of difference is greeted with hostile distrust.

Hence plump Tracy’s desire to appear on her beloved Corny Collins Show, which generously devotes one day a week to televised black music, appears doomed – especially since the producer, Velma Von Tussle, and her talented daughter, Amber, are dead against it.

But they reckon without Tracy’s determination and laudable lack of prejudice. Winning over friends from both sides of the racial divide, and getting her loving but cowed parents onside, the plump girl gets dancing, gets singing and gets some of the barriers to equality torn down.

Despite what you might think, I enjoyed the show. Director and choreographer Martyn Knight has coaxed some winning performances out of his amateur cast with Aniella Lucia exuding the requisite warmth and pluck.

The cast of West End Operatic Society's production of Hairspray, featuring Kevin Rhodes
The cast of West End Operatic Society's production of Hairspray, featuring Kevin Rhodes

Edna Turnblad, played by drag queen Divine in the Waters film, is brought fulsomely to life by drama teacher Andrew Fearon who looks great in a great big dress and forms a nice comedy duo with husband Wilbur, the joke shop owner played by Paul Outterside.

But there are notable turns throughout. Hannah Elliott, as nasty Amber, proves through her mellifluous dancing that in a real-life talent show she’d be a genuine contender, and the same can be said of Quentin Whitaker as Seaweed Stubbs.

The show looks great in terms of costumes and sets and the choreographed routines worked well – and will improve as the run continues and confidence mounts.

Finally, how nice to see this beautiful old theatre back in action and playing host to a high quality amateur show with music and laughter echoing off the ornate walls.

The place is steeped in history but also oozes a potential that hopefully, under new management, will be realised.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
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