It's still the Age of Aquarius 50 years on
A product of the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the Sixties and very much of its time so you might imagine it’s been a case of Hair today, gone tomorrow. But what was billed as the tribal rock musical is still with us on its 50th anniversary tour which comes to the Sheffield Lyceum next week
And its themes of rebellion, peace and love are just as relevant today, argues Daisy Wood-Davis who plays Sheila one of the leading members of the “tribe,” a group of hippies who hang out in Central Park, New York, while fighting against conscription into the Vietnam War.
“I think it’s an unknown musical to a lot of people which is a shame because it’s a lot more modern than people realise. If you come to see it there are a lot of songs you recognise. Aquarius which I think everyone knows, Let the Sunshine In, Good Morning Starshine which was released as a single at the end of the Sixties. There’s quite a few anthems which everybody knows but doesn’t realise where they actually came from.
“It was the first rock musical and really changed the direction musicals were going. It it wasn’t for Hair we wouldn’t have had We Will Rock You and Jesus Christ Superstar.”
But its initial impact was more in its content. “It was obviously a huge deal in 1968 when it was first put on,” says Wood-Davis. “There’s nudity, swearing, it touches on race, equality, homophobia, peace, war. It goes against everything of the time.
“There’s a song called Don’t Put It Down which is all about not allowing the American flag to go on the floor. It’s really unpatriotic to allow the American flag to be used in any way that is disrespectful and there is this whole song where the flag is thrown around and stood on.
“People used to walk out when they saw this back in the Sixties. It’s a piece that was obviously more powerful at that time but it’s still relevant now because we are still fighting for the things the characters are, unfortunately. So it’s very relevant but at the same time it’s a piece of social history.”
As for her character, Sheila: “ She is a feminist. Every person in the tribe has a cause that they are passionate about and Sheila’s is feminism. “She is powerful and believes in love and peace and she just doesn’t get why people are being so inhumane to each another. She’s passionate and goes on a lot of marches and is a real cool woman to play.” There are two moments in Hair which hit the headlines when it was first performed. One was the nude scene and the other the finale when the audience are invited to join the actors up on stage. “One of the most special moments I have had on stage is getting that audience participation which you don’t normally get in the theatre,” says Wood-Davis. “It’s immersive theatre, the sort you get in panto, but I think you have to be careful because sometimes it can devalue what you are doing . In this case it completely adds value. “Last night there was a woman crying on stage. It’s basically giving the message we are altogether. Everyone in the room is family, we love each other and we want people to leave the theatre feeling part of our tribe to spread peace and love. I think it does that and most of the people who get up on stage at the end have never been on stage before. It’s an amazing experience, we are all singing Let the Sunshine in. It’s just a big party. “The nudity is done in a really classy way and is a way of showing solidarity and their passion and it’s to show who they naturally are and get rid of the stuff of Western culture. I’m not saying it’s all about covering up but it’s part of showing their freedom.” When she took on the part, did the actor have any reservations about having to strip off? “ I think I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about it. I think it was a question of knowing it would come up at some time, if it wasn’t like this on stage it could be a film or something. In this business you are asked to do things that put you in a situation you wouldn’t normally be, whether a kissing scene or sexual scene or nudity and I think if you are doing it in a classy way that helps the story there is no need to shy away from it. “I think sometimes we need to be reminded that we all have bodies and it’s nice to do it when it is not sexualised. It’s no big deal really, we are all the same and don’t need to be prudish about what we have underneath our clothes and it’s nice to be reminded of that personally as well.”
Although Daisy Wood-Davis started out in musical theatre she is best known from her four years as Kim Butterfield in Hollyoaks. Her boyfriend, Luke Jerdy, is still in the soap and they remain based in Liverpool. “I am enjoying the tour but I would rather be at home with him, to be honest. It’s nice to see different cities but this is a high energy tour so there’s not much opportunity of exploring places. You can’t complain, it’s a great job, and it’s a a pleasure to be in work.” Hair is at the Lyceum, Sheffield, from Monday to Saturday, July 1-6.