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1968: Musical Hair opens as censors withdraw

The American hippy musical "Hair" has opened in London - one day after the abolition of theatre censorship.

Until yesterday, some of the scenes in the musical, written by out-of-work actors Gerome Ragni and James Rado, would have been considered too outrageous to be shown on a stage in Britain.

The show, billed as an American tribal love-rock musical, first opened in New York on 2 December last year.

Many were angered by scenes containing nudity and drug-taking as well as a strong anti-war message at the height of the Vietnam conflict and the desecration of the American flag on stage.

The show's transfer to London's West End would not have been possible before the new Theatres Act which ended the Lord Chamberlain's powers of censorship dating back to 1737.


"I think the famed nude scene has been greatly over-emphasised"

Tom O'Horgan, Director

Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole introduced play censorship to silence shows like The Beggars' Opera which contained biting anti-government satire.

The new Theatres Act does not give playwrights a completely free hand. Strong language and obscenity will still be liable for criminal prosecution.

Hair does contain some blasphemous and sexually explicit language.

But the scene that has aroused most controversy in the musical so far is where the cast appears on stage in the nude, emerging from beneath a vast sheet.

The director of the London production of Hair, Tom O'Horgan, said: "I think that the famed nude scene has been greatly over-emphasised.

"It has very little importance in the show itself and much of the publicity has obscured the important aspects of the play, which are also perhaps shocking to people because they deal with things as they are. We tell it the way it is."

Asked whether the timing of the opening was significant, he said: "We couldn't have done the play the way we're doing it prior to this time without drastic modifications."

The cast of the West End production appeared on Eamonn Andrews Independent Television show last night but decided against performing the nude scene. Mr O'Horgan said it would have given the wrong impression of the show.

Hair had a shaky start in New York. Its first two runs were cut short before producer Michael Butler became involved. He brought in Tom O'Horgan as director.

It took three months to re-vamp the musical - and when it finally appeared at the Biltmore on Broadway it had 19 songs in the first act compared with just nine in the original production.

In Context
Hair ran on Broadway until 1 July 1972, when it closed after 1,742 performances.

It played to mixed reviews across the United States and was the subject of at least two prominent court battles, in Boston, Massachusetts in 1970 and Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1975.

In Britain, the play also opened to mixed reviews.

Drama critic Irving Wardle writing in The Times said: "Nothing else remotely like it has yet struck the West End.Its honesty and passion give it the quality of a true theatrical celebration - the joyous sound of a group of people telling the world exactly what they feel."

Another critic writing in The Telegraph said the "taboo-flouting seemed too defiant".

The actor Oliver Tobias starred in the West End production. He subsequently took the show to Israel and Holland.

Despite the initial controversy, there have been numerous revivals of Hair.

I was there
I attended the opening night of Hair in London with my late husband, Dr Frank Hughes, who was doctor to the cast, and one of the producers, John Nasht.

After the show we waited up until the reviews came in in the morning newspapers - all the reviews were bad except the Financial Times.

They were the only ones that were right and the show went on happily for a long run.

It was a wonderful show and I have many happy memories of many good times spent with the cast. I would love to hear from any of the cast who remembers my husband Dr Frank Hughes.
Caroline Hughes, UK


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