As a student in Newcastle during the early 90s, the Tuxedo Royale, moored on the banks of the River Tyne, was a popular haunt. In those days, we called it ‘The Boat’ and would regularly walk the gangplank, negotiate the tilted corridors, and make our way to the revolving dance floor.
Looking back, the combination of a ship, a fast-moving floor and alcohol was a recipe for a disaster. Once on the circular surface, it was virtually impossible to get off. One of my friends broke his ankle trying to dismount.
Last night, as I sat in Manchester’s Palace Theatre watching a new touring version of Hamilton, I was reminded of those halcyon days. On a pared-down set which remained broadly the same for nigh on three hours, the rotating stage was used to brilliant effect by the uniformly excellent cast with the slickest, tightest choreography I’ve ever seen. Boy, was it clever.
The audience thought so, too. I can’t recall another show where the spectators were so predisposed to love a production. Whoops and cheers echoed round the auditorium before a word was spoken, and every song was greeted with rapturous applause. Given Hamilton‘s global success, I suppose many people knew what to expect, especially as the original Broadway presentation is available to stream. But I’d deliberately gone in blind, with only a rudimentary knowledge of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster. Yes, I understood it was the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton, and I was aware that the cast comprised of predominantly non-white actors. Snippets of overheard songs suggested that hip-hop was a main musical element and, oh, it was loud.
Hmmm. When it comes to plot, I’m not sure that, today, I’m any the wiser. The frenetic energy of the show and quick-fire patter of the lyrics made the narrative hard to follow, and it was clearly assumed that various important events and key characters would be familiar to audiences. While that may be true in the US, I suspect that British patrons will struggle to make sense of who’s who and what’s what. But none of that seemed to matter (perhaps one of the secrets to Hamilton’s success?) and I certainly didn’t care. I just sat back (well, as much as you can in the cramped and bum-numbing seats at the Palace) and drank it in.
Breathless in its delivery and infused with an energy I’ve yet to totally digest, Hamilton moved quicker than the scramble for interval drinks. From the youthful arrogance and optimism of the founding fathers (who were all relatively young men at the time) to the political infighting in later life, Hamilton raced along, fuelled by a slew of unforgettable songs capable of inciting an auditorium to stamp its feet one moment and shed tears the next.
Unlike other touring productions I’ve seen, this felt like a top-notch West End show with few compromises – no cardboard sets and shonky dance routines here. Equally, there was no stand-out performance because everyone was so damn good (although I did clap particularly loudly for Shaq Taylor as Hamilton, Maya Britto as his wife, and Gabriela Benedetti as Peggy/Maria). Perhaps the exceptional cast, orchestra, choreography, lighting and sound will go some way to mollify Manchester audiences who have to shell out more than £80 for a half-decent seat on a school night.
By the time the curtain came down, I was exhausted – but in a satisfying way, like the sensation after a football match when your team have trounced the opposition. I also felt my age. As it turns out, a seat in the circle is no friend to varifocals. And a total git sat behind you is not conducive to a stress-free theatre experience. Who brings chicken goujons to the theatre? Who buys crisps and popcorn and eats solidly for three hours? Who sings along? What is wrong with people? I’m actually asking.
Much has been said in recent years about deteriorating behaviour in theatres. Sadly, it shows no sign of improving. But if Hamilton‘s audience members didn’t know how to act, the performers on stage didn’t put a step wrong. And no one fell off the revolving floor.
Main image: Charles Simmons as George Washington and Company. Photo by Danny Kaan.
Hamilton is at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until February 24, 2023. For more information, click here.