REVIEW: Dark and Lovely (Ovalhouse)

RJPZ2OiZzL1kp4v49Z6F4AQl61Ca7n3UfojcSTfcy3E,15WN5532oSsou0IgmT_QJwqGwH3Doq7hZ-SbemAOkPY,OBOsdoTcKI05sqZ30W7v3hxUMhfsWcCxCTq-rYiW47ELet’s get one thing straight. Any show that opens with the artist welcoming me with a big smile and a rum cocktail is alright in my books. Dark and Lovely is this kind of show. Exploring the issues surrounding black women’s hair, artist Selina Thompson invites the audience into her intimate show that combines research, memoir and storytelling to create a thought provoking and entertaining show.

The first thing you are struck by is what could be described as a giant igloo made entirely of hair. Weaves, wigs and extensions are intertwined to create a cosy hide-away hole from within which Thompson pops up out of to deliver monologues, before inviting us in for an impromptu hairdressing session. The show is then divided into different topics surrounding black women’s hair including the world’s perception of blonde being best, the anger of racist views, the warmth of family bonding while doing their hair, the physical pain that can be endured and ending with a beautiful fairy tale about self-appreciation.

What really holds the show together is Selina Thompson’s skill at storytelling and creating an inviting atmosphere. Audience numbers are purposefully kept small for to create intimacy, so much so at one point we are all invited into the living room-esque hair dome and an audience member is invited to style Thompson’s hair. Thompson radiates warmth and confidence while spinning her yarns and while there is clearly a defined script, it’s the offhand improvised comments that keep the show rooted in reality and very touching. And it’s because of this friendly atmosphere, a scene where she describes chemical burns from relaxer while yanking clumps of hair out of a drain is so much more shocking and disturbing.

If I am completely honest, there were a few moments where I didn’t understand the phrases or situations, but that in itself was an interesting feeling. I don’t know anything about black women’s hair except what is shown in the media so this performance was a real eye-opener, both to my own ignorance and to the skewed versions of beauty we see every day.

Dark and Lovely is an excellent and surprising piece of theatre which changes and develops with each new audience. Yes you could argue that hair is just hair, there doesn’t have to be a deeper meaning. But if that’s the case then why do black women make up 85% of the hair care revenue in the UK but only 3% of the population. And as Selina Thompson says, there’s no value range for afros.

Reviewed by Roz Carter

Dark and Lovely is playing at the Ovalhouse until 17 October 2015. Click here for tickets