So there we were, last Saturday afternoon, in row F of the Royal Circle at London's Shaftesbury Theatre for the matinee performance of that gloriously infectious crowd-pleaser, Hairspray – me, the kids and an aunt and uncle, all there for a bit of 21st-century family-friendly community theatre.
Now, when you go to see Jersey Boys, you're unlikely to see an entire audience made up of teenage boys trying to look like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and when you go and watch Billy Elliot, you don't find an army of adolescent boys pretending to be frustrated ballet dancers. But when you visit Hairspray you will find yourself surrounded by dozens of fat girls looking rather like the show's protagonist, the supersized Tracy Turnblad. Not only was I the only man who appeared to be wearing a jacket, but everyone else seemed to be wearing little but bright pink velour and denim cut-offs. And we're not just talking about the women here.
My youngest said she could actually smell hairspray, but it was only Oscar de la Renta perfume, and the woman in front of us had apparently bathed in it before coming to the theatre. I don't usually do camp, especially not the PG-rated variety, and my John Waters days are a long way behind me, but here I was, in the middle of a High School Musical panto as staged by Graham Norton and Alan Carr.
The show builds to an enthusiastic crescendo, and there is a virtuoso performance by Sandra Marvin ("I Know Where I've Been" is a wonderful show-stopper), but the real stars are the audience, who all come determined to have a good time.
As far as I'm concerned, the only other audience which has been more entertaining (well, apart from the Mamma Mia audience, who seemed predetermined to overshadow anyone on stage) was the crowd for a matinee of David Mamet's Oleana at the Oxford Playhouse about 15 years ago. In true Mamet style, the play is somewhat profane, and at one point near the beginning, one elderly American tourist turned to his female companion and said, in the loudest possible voice, the sort that could be heard in every seat in the house, "Did he say fuck?"
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'Reuse content