Entertainment & Arts

West End on the Waterfront

Award-winning Broadway show Hair is the first hit musical to appear at a UK festival.

The 2009 remake of the production is currently being shown in London's West End, but the cast will perform a 30-minute extract at the Latitude festival in Suffolk on Sunday.

The musical is about long-haired hippies living in New York in the 1960s, who get naked, take drugs and protest against the Vietnam War.

"When you see it, you realise the world is still trying to achieve the same things it was then," says Gavin Creel, who plays the show's main character Claude.

"True freedom of expression, ending war, total equality for all, these themes are universal and I think people respond now more than ever, seeing that we haven't progressed all that much in over 40 years."

A wooden jetty hovering above a lake packed with giant floating lotus flowers and families trying out punting is the setting for the production at the four-day music event this weekend.

Image caption Hair is set in New York in the 1960s

This year the Waterfront stage has already played host to Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake Act II, and midnight readings from comedy storytellers Daniel Kitson and Gavin Osborn.

It was also the location chosen for Tom Jones to showcase his new gospel album.

Since its inception in 2006, Latitude has championed emerging productions and grassroots theatre, so to showcase a musical that has already been a huge commercial success is unusual for the festival.

Despite that, Creel says the stripped down production - which includes the hits Flesh Failures (Let the Sun Shine In) and I Got Life - brings something special to the stage.

"We offer variety. We're different. We bring a little history and perspective with us. I want Hair to be the only West End musical to ever grace Latitude. It would be so cool to think that a little window in time opened, we got to shine through, and then, it was gone."

'Soulless'

But not everyone agrees that a show such as this should be given a slot at an event known for finding unique entertainment.

"I think it's slightly soulless that a West End musical is here," says 27-year-old festival-goer Ross Liddle.

"I would rather see emerging, grassroots things coming to festival and then slowly but surely making their way to the West End."

Image caption Hair has been a huge success on Broadway and the West End

But Anna Davis, 32, says she is looking forward to seeing the scaled down version of the hit musical.

"Usually I go to festivals where it's all about the music. It's good to be able to see a couple of different things here," she says.

"I am already a fan of Hair, it's a great musical, and it's cool to be able watch it again in a such different setting."

Latitude organiser Melvin Benn says the aim is to cater for everyone at the event, which is about a "breadth and calibre of programming across the arts and music".

This includes Showstopper - the antithesis to highly produced West End hits - offering an entirely improvised show every night with new songs and plots, based only on audience suggestions.

Dylan Emery, co-founder and star of the project, says: "We've done everything from slaying dragons to portraying the financial crisis on Wall Street. It's absolutely unique, what you see is created in front of you and it will never happen again.

"One of the wonderful things about festivals is that something might be happening in a tent that you normally wouldn't go and see, but you might just wonder over and have a look at it. And I think that is a great reason to introduce all these different art forms and have them all in the same place."

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