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Hairspray - Kilworth House Theatre Review

Reviewed by Mark Johnson

Disclaimer: Ticket was gifted in return for honest review

The beautiful leafy Leicestershire venue Kilworth House Theatre follows up its hit 2022 season with the big hair, big heart musical Hairspray.

Director and choreographer Lee Proud superbly presents a vibrant, energetic new version of the show that has enjoyed award-winning runs in the West End and on Broadway but could be at it's best here.

The cast of Hairspray. Photo by John Fox.

The show follows Tracy Turnblad who has dreams of being a star on her favourite TV show, The Corny Collins Show, whilst she also pursues social injustices and breaking down racial barriers. 

Taking on the role of Tracy is a magnificent Charlotte-Hannah Jones. Jones is a bundle of energy and is a warm central presence that drives the story forwards. Crafting the character with determination and drive especially when the world is against her but matching that with song, dance and vibrancy. Jones' vocals are pitch perfect throughout.

Michael J Batchelor drags up as Tracy’s mother Edna Turnblad. Batchelor is endless good fun to watch, with a cheeky twinkle in his eye. Showcasing the best Edna I’ve seen to date, both playing the insecurity and the more comedic moments. The duet of ‘You’re Timeless To Me’ alongside Steven Serlin’s eccentric Wilbur Turnblad is a highlight and has both audience and performers in stitches.

Biancha Szynal is bright eyed as Tracy’s loyal best friend, Penny Pingleton. Szynal always catches your attention whenever she is on the stage. She is boundless supportive despite her own mother’s control that she has over her and you feel that from Szynal’s performance. Catherine Morris relishes as Penny’s mother and watch out for her as the Female Authority Figure. 

Eva Phillips (Little Inez), Michael J Batchelor (Edna), Steven Serlin (Wilbur), Ayesha Maynard (Motormouth Maybelle) and Charlotte-Hannah Jones (Tracy). Photo by John Fox

Jenny Gayner has a hoot as the nasty TV producer Velma Von Tussle, a character who resents integrating coloured people on to the show. Gayner delights in the villainous role. Holly Willock is excellent as Velma’s daughter Amber Von Tussle, Willock excellently shows both the bitchy side and the frustration as things don’t go her way. 

Liam Doyle is a bright presence as Corny Collins, he provides a bit of foil for Velma, especially as he threatens to take the show to another channel and showcases smooth vocal. Alex Lodge is rightly charming as Link Larkin, the heartthrob of the TV cast and wooing all hearts especially that of Tracy’s. Both Doyle and Lodge showcase their leading man abilities.

Nay-Nay gives a sensational performance as Seaweed J Stubbs, he oozes delighting movement and a cracking vocal performance, the first half solo 'Run and Tell That' is a fizzing joy. Performances like Nay-Nay’s are a treat to watch. Eva Phillips does a great job with Little Inez, both touching and determined. Jessica Niles, M-Jae Cleopatra Isaac and Jayme-Lee Zanoncelli sizzle as the Dynamite’s with showstopping vocals and stage presence.

Ayesha Maynard is in a league of their own as Motormouth Maybelle. Maynard commands the stage with confidence. The powerful vocal range is magnificent. The anthem ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ is a real moment that blows you away, delivered with heart and emotion, Maynard’s vocals are up there with the best you’ll ever hear.

Proud’s vibrant choreography is performed brilliantly by the entire ensemble, he makes the movement seamless to the characters part of the story, making everything feel believable. Paul Farnsworth’s fairly simplistic set allows for the performances to shine, the use of large colour both on the set and in the costumes adds a flair of showbiz to the show with Jason Taylor’s rainbow of lights embossing the whole thing further especially as darkness falls.

The score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman is full of superb numbers but undoubtedly the finale of ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’ leaves the audience on a thrilling high. An excellent off stage orchestra under conductor Michael Bradley makes a great noise and Chris Whybrow’s crystal clear sound means the vocals and the music aren’t lost in the wooded settings of the theatre.

Having seen a few differing productions of Hairspray I think this may be the best sounding cast of them all. It’s a fabulous production that tackles issues that remain ever relevant in terms of size, body image, race and racial equality. The show manages to tackle those issues whilst being a dose of feel good entertainment with songs that stay with you long after the show is over. Once more Kilworth House Theatre has a hit on their hands. The perfect show in the perfect venue. 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Hairspray continues at Kilworth House Theatre until Sunday 6th August. Tickets are available from

The cast of Hairspray. Photo by John Fox 

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