Photo: Johan Persson

Hex has not had the most straightforward journey to the stage. Announced with some fanfare to be the National Theatre’s big new musical for Christmas 2021, and with Rosalie Craig in the lead role, the first attempt to launch the show coincided with the arrival of the Omicron wave of Covid-19; company illness forced the closure of the initial run after a handful of previews. The second attempt to bring this to the stage is more successful and this run has enjoyed an opening night, although sadly we’ve lost much of the original cast that was initially announced – including Rosalie Craig.

Has it been worth the wait? Well, we’d say Hex is something of a mixed bag, but we’re going to start with the positives, and there are certainly plenty of individually strong elements to this production. For starters, it’s absolutely beautiful – the staging and the costuming both look terrific, the Disney-esque castle is a sight to behold, and the lighting design is something else; you’d have no idea we were in the midst of an energy crisis, watching this show. Hex is a visually spectacular production, one which employs every trick in the Olivier Theatre’s book.

There are some strong performances too. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt near enough steals every scene as ogress Queenie, although the show-stopping musical moments belong to Lisa Lambe (playing the role of Fairy) who has an incredible voice. Meanwhile Michael Elcock as Bert brings a real energy to the stage – his is a magnetic performance.

Unfortunately, the songs let the side down here. Most are pretty forgettable and the lyrics, while occasionally clever or amusing, often feel pedestrian. There are a couple of highlights: towards the end of act one we’re treated to ‘Hello’, when our sleeping beauty and our prince first meet, and it is gentle, tender, warm and entertaining; early in act two there’s a song involving all the failed suitors which is pretty funny. We’d be hard pushed to remember much about any of the other songs here – and there are a lot. Stylistically it seems a bit incoherent, too – some Madness-inspired pop numbers didn’t sit comfortably with the more traditional musical theatre fare.

Hex also feels a bit confused in terms of its target demographic. Based on the Charles Perrault version of the fairytale it’s much darker than many a Sleepy Beauty that has come before, with unexpectedly macabre scenes playing out in the second act. This sort of subject matter sits somewhat incongruously with the cruder and more juvenile humour found elsewhere in the show. It is also rather long, clocking in at more than two and a half hours, which is a substantial amount of time for families with young children.

Overall we felt that there was probably a good show buried somewhere amongst the material here but it needs a bit of work to make it great. There are some individually strong elements to the show – it looks amazing, some of the acting is great and there are a couple of decent tunes – but this feels like it needs a fair bit of editing before we have a truly spectacular finished product.

GAY TIMES gives Hex – 3/5

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