The Playhouse, Edinburgh
It was a little bit longer than fifty years ago today since Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s hippy musical created with composer Galt MacDermot first turned on, tuned in and didn’t so much drop out as attempted to subvert the mainstream with their piece of anti-Vietnam War pop propaganda. Half a century on, this touring anniversary revival of the trio’s loose-knit yarn about a youthful tribe of draft-dodging, free-loving, dope-smoking, acid-dropping, bad-tripping children of the revolution is a blast from the past.
With the tribe sashaying their way through the auditorium at the top of Jonathon O’Boyle’s production, the tone is set with a rousing take on Aquarius that features some lovely harmonies that pulse the show throughout. Musical director Gareth Bretherton’s arrangements also sees him leading a five-piece band augmented by flourishes of piccolo, flute and trumpet played by the cast.
The narrative, such as it is, focuses on Paul Wilkins’ Claude, who is torn between burning his draft card alongside his beatifically inclined comrades led by Jake Quickenden’s guru-like Berger, or joining up to become part of the straight world. In terms of patriarchal pecking order, both Daisy Wood-Davis’ Sheila and Alison Arnopp’s Jeanie are noticeably subservient ciphers in a male-run counter-culture, with Wood-Davis in particularly fine voice.
The result of a show originally seen at the Hope Mill Theatre is a rainbow-coloured collage of sound and vision delivered through a kaleidoscope of woozy set-pieces made flesh on Maeve Black’s set by William Whelton’s communal choreography. This is both slick and uncompromising in its adherence to the show’s of-its-time randomness, though it might not be quite what fans of its reality TV leads expect.
Growing your hair as a political statement might not have the cache it once did, and some of the self-absorption of the baby boomers at play appears smug. Nevertheless, while the gospel-based bubblegum soundtrack of now mainstream standards such as I Got Life and Let the Sunshine In are unlikely to bring down the government, they make for an infectiously appealing trip.
The Herald, June 18th 2019