Jim Sharman turned the inside of the Metro Theatre, King's Cross, into a giant discotheque last night to stage "Hair" - the New York entertainment, part musical, part revivalist meeting, part camp-fire romp, in which way-out youth of the 1960s puts its point of view about love and freedom, and death and war - and religion.
Perhaps the first thing to be said about this buoyant, fervent, throbbing pseudo "happening" is that the point of view that comes across, with every psychedelic trapping of flashing lights, gaudy costumes and electronic blast, is utterly amiable, affectionate, innocent - and nowhere more so than in the famous brief nude scene.
You may come to this show in a detached frame of mind - a spectator at a tribal rite, inquisitive about the anthropology and natural history. And indeed what is offered to young and old is exotic, romantic, sentimental, with more than a dash of traditional "show biz" to keep things humming.
But so disarming are Mr. Sharman's young, rather amateurish but utterly dedicated cast that detachment melts in the warmth of the players' implied embrace and the pulse of their rhythms of celebration, mourning and exaltation.
This critic surrendered almost at the beginning before the Tully struck up when a Negro lad, with a husky murmur of the most human thing in New York, wandered down the aisle giving us flowers and saying, as only New York Negroes can, "Hello there!"
From this preliminary mingling with the audience - to be repeated (sometimes distractingly) at different stages of the show - a low rhythmic moaning and the entrance of a priest like figure of Aztec gravity on the stage launched the show.
Ahead of us yawned the open cavern of the Metro stage festooned in steel scaffolding which projected at the sides into the auditorium.
On the middle of three stages at the back were arranged the Tully (augmented). Batteries of lights menaced us. And from the aisles, down the scaffolding catwalks, from the theatre boxes, from the flies down ropes, there assembled the hippy tribe with its ritual invocation, "Aquarius."
Then into the Red Indian scene there broke, with a flash of golden light and a strum of guitars, the deeper throb of Africa as another priest like figure high above the stage, vivid in scarlet and white. The service over, the fun began...
I have called it a revivalist meeting, and Galt McDermot's music, ranging from Moody and Sankey rhythms to strident rock constantly emphasizes this aspect binding fun-and-games to ritual.
But the fun-and-games, strutting or cartwheeling into parody and satire, give the show its exuberance.
Some figures emerge as individuals from the tribal frenzy - notably Claude (Wayne Matthews), whose call-up for National Service is the pretext for a glib but wholly sincere crucifixion - and resurrection finale.
The simplistic moral message transcends the tribe's uninhibited comments on their society and its organized religions. Indeed, it is the essence of "Hair's" peculiar blend of satire and innocence that the casual blasphemies and smiling obscenities are so inoffensive.
This, words and music and players insist with a grin, is the way it is - and to show us they smoke "pot", "walk on air", send-up the latinical multisyllables of sexology, roar with laughter at moms and dads, mock history and patriotism, mock themselves - even undress.
FUN AND GAMES
The mockery is shrewd. A confrontation between a pregnant girl and the unwanted father of her child becomes a send-up of tense, clipped, false movie "drama."
Racialism gets its comeuppance with trios of girls (one trio wriggling in a single dress) proclaiming their preference for black boys or white; "cuts", with cinematic swiftness, to a black girl's burlesque of Lincoln and emancipation; and then, as the pace races, is swallowed up in a panorama of blacks, whites, red, Vietcong and U.S. soldiers killing each other in wave after wave of assault and treachery.
I hope to write later about Mr. Sharman's productions and its virtues and shortcomings (I heard so few of the lyrics!); also about just what relation, if any, all these endearing goings-on have to theatre, its conventions and art.
Writing now of a show that came out less than an hour before my deadline, I shall proclaim only my fascination and absorption. "Hair" last night was adored by its audience; it should run for months.
Copyright The Sydney Morning Herald.