Feb 26 2016 | By More

★★★★★    Stylish

Edinburgh Playhouse: Mon 22 – Sat 27 Feb 2016
Review by Thom Dibdin

The power of dance, song and big hair are used to heap scorn on all kinds of prejudice as Hairspray returns for a week-long flash of brio and fun at the Playhouse.

All is as it should be in this new touring production, which has been somewhat streamlined to fit into the smaller venues on the circuit. Not that it doesn’t spread into the corners of the Playhouse’s wide stage, nor is there any shortage of talent on it.

Hairspray Cast

Freya Sutton and the Hairspray cast. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

After a slight wibble in the opening moments of Good Morning Baltimore, Freya Sutton makes a great Tracy Turnblad, the teenage girl who is not afraid of her size and whose dream is to get a spot dancing on the Corny Collins show. And behind her nasal twang there is a sweet voice ready to emerge.

Sutton has all the bounce and vivaciousness you could want. She positively nails the gauche teenager look when she eventually meets her crush, Link Larkin (the studiously hunky Ashley Gilmore), on the show. It’s the same unabashed naivety with which she goes on to question the Corny Collins show’s policy of racial segregation.

Like the real-life American TV shows of the early sixties on which the Corny Collins Show is based, the dancers are the force which keeps the whole thing going. The core dance troupe seem to have more energy than a housewife on diet pills – but with such precision that you don’t notice quite how speedy they are until Drew McOnie’s choreography slows for the big ensemble numbers.

Jon Tsouras nails Corny Collins too. Slick, precise, and emerging from the background to be centre of attention as soon as the show goes live, he is an utterly believable TV host. And it is this strength in the background cast that lifts this production to five star status.

Brenda Edwards and company. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Brenda Edwards and company. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Indeed, director Paul Kerryson there is a really slick, detailed feel to the whole production. The band have been elevated from the pit, for example, and sit high above the back stage. It’s a move that makes great sense during the scenes in the Corny Collins show, and even allows them to be part of the action.

The main event, though, is still the mocking of prejudice in the events which unfurl when Tracy says the unsayable in 1962 Baltimore: “Every day should be negro day”.

The scene when Tracy is in detention with Dex Lee’s strongly-created Seeweed, learning the moves that will get her a place on Corny Collins, really zings. While the scenes in his mum  Motormouth Maybelle’s record store do much more than move the plot on, with solid work from all concerned, not least the huge-lunged Brenda Edwards as Maybelle.

Where ever you look there are great performances. Karis Jack is vibrant and on the nose as Seaweed’s wee sister, Little Inez, who tries out for Corny Collins at the same time as Tracy, but they won’t even see because she is black. The three Dynamites – Vanessa Fisher, Bobbie Little and Aiesha Pease – provide an effortless edge of backing vocals.

The main cast. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

The main cast. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

It’s not just prejudice over size and race, however, that this points the finger at. It has a refreshing take on gender politics with the casting of a man as Tracy’s mum, Edna, who takes in the washing. Of course this stems from the original movie, with John Waters casting his regular collaborator Divine in the role, but Edna is much more than a drag.

Which doesn’t stop Tony Maudsley from having great fun in the role, using his male register to great effect. But it is the second half number with hubby Wilbur (played by diminutive, two time Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan) You’re Timeless to Me that rocks it. It has hilarious elements of little-and-large physical comedy and great vocals, but its killer element is its romance, sealed with a cheered-to-the-rafters on-stage snog.

The baddies play their part too, with Claire Sweeney in splendid form as vile Velma Von Tussle, Corny Collins’ producer who stops at nothing to better her own little girl Amber (Lauren Stroud). And while it might be escapist in the way that good conquers bad, there is no holding back from the knowledge that all is not perfect.

As the song says, You Can’t Stop the Beat – nor, indeed, the motion of the ocean, or the sun in the sky. And this is both brilliant bubble-gum fluff that should leave you dancing in the aisles and a hugely enjoyable slice of political theatre.

Running time 2 hours 35 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3AA
Monday 22 – Saturday 27 February 2016
Daily: 7.30pm; Matinees Weds, Sat: 2.30pm.
Full details and tickets on the Playhouse website:


Hairspray on tour 2016:
22 – 27 Feb Edinburgh
0844 871 7627 Book online
29 Feb – 5 Mar Inverness
Eden Court
01463 234 234 Book online
7 – 12 Mar Bristol
0844 871 3012 Book online
14 – 19 Mar Woking
New Victoria Theatre
0844 871 7645 Book online
21 – 26 Mar Cardiff
New Theatre
029 2087 8899 Book online
29 Mar – 2 Apr Norwich
Theatre Royal
01603 63 00 00 Book online
11 – 16 Apr Llandudno
Venue Cymru
01492 872000 Book online
18 – 23 Apr Plymouth
Theatre Royal
01752 230440 Book online
25 – 30 Apr Canterbury
Marlowe Theatre
01227 787787 Book online
2 – 7 May Bromley
Churchill Theatre
020 3285 6000 Book online
9 – 14 May Stoke
Regent Theatre
0844 871 7627 Book online
16 – 21 May Southend
Cliffs Pavilion
01702 351135 Book online


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,