Theatre review: Hairspray

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THERE’S a myth, propagated by the media, that all we want to see are beautiful, petite, white young things with not many brain cells or much personality and an abundance of nice teeth adorning everything from magazine covers to theatre stages.

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Hairspray. Picture: Comp

Hairspray. Picture: Comp

Edinburgh Playhouse

But dig a bit deeper and you notice that what people really want is a cracking story, a flawed hero and a something that’ll tickle their fancy.

It’s not so much about beauty as charisma, that intangible energy that draws people in. Just look at The Archers, the world’s longest running soap opera – you can’t see the actors, it’s about farming folk and it’s set in the Midlands. Sexy it ain’t, but it inspires adoration and rabid loyalty in it’s fans.

Maybe that’s why Hairspray enjoys the longevity and affection it has, it’s about ordinary folks doing what they love inspite of the ‘establishment’. It’s about people embracing their dreams and overcoming the odds with a smile on their face and a song in their heart. Just like the interracial group of teens who really did take over a kids dance show, The Buddy Deane Show, in Baltimore in 1963, inspiring social change, a movie and a musical.

Hairspray captures perfectly the optimism and irrepressible energy of youth, a bright can-do attitude in contrast to their parents’ tired, down-at-heel wisdom.

The real revelation in this tour is Mark Benton’s exceptional Edna Turnblad, whose character development over the course of the evening is in turns touching, warm, dignified and funny. Benton handles Edna’s transformation from downtrodden, housebound housewife to “Ample American” butterfly with self- effacing grace.

Sharing the bill with Benton is Lucy Benjamin as the venomous Velma Von Tussle. Benjamin is deliciously snide, although her accent has a tendency to slip as the tension ramps up.

The younger cast members are immensely likeable, portraying their parts with assurance and excellent timing, although one can’t help but wish for a little more character development in their roles.

Sandra Martin’s Motormouth Maybelle, a reason in itself to see the show, also stands out.

Run ends September 14