Hairspray – Review

Apr 11 2014 | By More

★★★★☆ Depth and pleasure

Wed 9 – Sat 12 April 2014: Edinburgh Academy
Review by Thom Dibdin

It’s Good Morning Baltimore at the Edinburgh Academy’s theatre all this week where the young members of the Forth Children’s Theatre are getting it right with a super production of Hairspray.

The stage adaptation of John Waters film of racial integration and triumph over body fascism, set in early 1960s Baltimore, has big tunes, big dance numbers and big characters coming out of its ears.

Laura Flynn and Alex Gordon. Photo © Mark Gorman

Laura Flynn and Alex Gordon. Photo: Mark Gorman

Fortunately, FCT is equally well-equipped with great young performers who, if their vocal equipment is not yet quite up to the belting some of these numbers require, are certainly up for giving it a go – and don’t fall short in either dancing or character.

Top billing goes to Laura Flynn as Tracy Turnblad, the super-sized sixteen year-old whose dream is to join the elite Council of regular dancers on the Corny Collins show. Where, if she had her way, every day would be Negro Day – not one day a month.

While Flynn’s voice was very poorly served by her microphone on the evening Æ saw the production, her moves were spot on. She has that ability to appear both energetic and relaxed at the same time, while delivering a precise, fully extended performance.

Beside her, Esther Scott is a deliciously well-observed Penny Pingleton, Tracy’s best pal. It’s one of the most rounded-out roles of the show, and Scott uses it well – as both a shy, happily-overshadowed sidekick to Tracy when they skip school to audition for Corny Collins and teenage daughter of zealously religious Prudy (Hayley Scott), when she is grounded.

Esther Scott and Liam Thomson carry the plot superbly as her white character falls for his black lad, Seaweed. Director Ronan Radin does well to ensure that it is a relationship which falls out quite naturally as the two besotted teens get on with their romance, oblivious to its overtones.

“a great change of tone”

The production switches easily between scenes with the minimum of fuss, just a few rotating boards up on walls of the set. On stage, however, there is a great change of tone when it moves from the regimentation of the TV studio to the record shop run by Seaweed’s mum: Motormouth Maybelle.

Ain't no Cooties on the twirling Sophie Williams as Amber Von Tussle. Photo © Mark Gorman

Ain’t no Cooties on the twirling Sophie Williams as Amber Von Tussle. Photo © Mark Gorman

The role of Motormouth, the larger-than-life and worldly-wise black DJ, is probably the trickiest for a young performer to take on. Sarah Couper could be larger in her presence, but does have the cynical edge needed as Motormouth tells a bit of reality to the exuberant kids, who believe they can change attitudes with one performance of the Madison.

Penny and Seaweed’s relationship is not the only one which could cause waves. The production follows convention by casting a male to play Tracy’s mum, Edna. And Alex Gordon certainly fills the role. It’s not played as drag, either, allowing Gordon and the hugely vibrant Gus Harrower, as Tracy’s dad Wilbur, to create a very touching relationship between the two. It’s boldly done, and done very well indeed.

The baddies – Corny Collins’ pushy producer Velma Von Tussle and her pouting daughter Amber – are played with all the relish you could want. Megan Jarvie is vileness personified as Velma, letting slip her underlying bigotry so casually it is unnerving, as she cheats and lies so Amber will win the Miss Teenage Hairspray competition.

Sophie Williams is quite the spoilt brat as Amber. She has the disdainful  attitude to Council heartthrob Link Larkin (Mark Scott) down pat. And when given the chance to really shine with her own number – the splendid Cooties – she gives it a exactly the right level of harsh, vicious performance it needs.

Elsewhere, there are shimmering and strong performances all over the place: from Ronan Rafferty’s clear and slightly knowing Corny Collins to a funky spark of life from Nandi Sawyers Hudson as Little Inez.

Under the musical direction of Andrew McDivitt, the band is precise and on the mark. Katie Renton’s choreography uses the tight space of the stage well, and she finds some great moves from the Council members.

A production which, despite giving its performers some serious technical issues with their microphone levels to overcome, succeeds in providing sparkle in performance and depth in its interpretation.

Running time 2 hrs 30 mins
Run ends Saturday 12 April
Daily 7.30pm (Sat Mat 2.30pm)
Edinburgh Academy, 42 Henderson Row, EH3 5BL
Run sold out
FCT website:


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Comments (4)

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  1. Douglas Miller says:

    wonderful energy, superb dancing and choreography, completely satisfying and charming show.

  2. mark gorman says:

    Thanks Douglas. Thom’s right we did have technical issues on the opening night. It is VERY VERY difficult to mount a production of this scale for only 4 days and get it bang on from the off. Thankfully these were quickly overcome and I’m grateful to Thom for seeing beyond this and focussing on what is important about what we do.