Hull Truck’s production of Jane Thornton’s new play, I Want that Hair, is soon to embark on a tour reminiscent of the old barnstorming days. After its run in Hull, the production visits some 60 theatres, arts centres and schools, mostly for one night each, before the middle of May.
In many ways the play is ideally suited to such a schedule. Pip Leckenby’s excellent black-and-white set recreates a slightly old-fashioned hairdressing salon by means of furniture, equipment and props, with minimal scenery. An amusing, straightforward, very accessible two-hander, I Want that Hair is distinctly audience-friendly and its slight plot doesn’t overstay its welcome at one and three-quarter hours, including interval.
However, one of Hull Truck’s strengths is the way in which its productions relate to the locality. In this case the mere mention of Howden or Driffield or the name of the sponsors, a Hull hair salon, guarantees a laugh – will audiences in Bishop Auckland or Milford Haven be as accommodating?
The play concerns two very different women working in an increasingly unsuccessful hairdresser’s: an effective and neatly varied running gag features all the wrong number phone calls for appointments at the new salon over the road. Bex, the manager, a university graduate and ex-teacher trapped in a very middle-class marriage, is celebrating a significant birthday: she is, as Heidi tactlessly points out, “fat and forty”. Heidi, the assistant, is the eternal teenager, constantly changing partners and jobs, her increasingly outlandish appearance belying the fact that she is, in fact, older than Bex.
They talk a lot about their views on life, exchange entertaining tales about their bizarre customers, Bex ponders major changes, minor changes occur – and that’s it. As Thornton writes, It’s not Shirley Valentine”; in fact, it could be seen as an antidote to such life-affirming dramas. The dialogue and situation are realistic – though the closeness of the relationship between the two women seems to shift from time to time – and the unseen characters (Max, the snobbish husband, or India, the feckless work experience girl) are oddly convincing.
After Bex’s hilarious opening monologue to a silent, put-upon and ultimately ignored customer (a device repeated twice with equal success), John Godber’s production sets a cracking pace, but the momentum is not always maintained. Gillian Jephcott (Bex) and Kiki Kendrick (Heidi) give well contrasted, complementary and consistently amusing performances, but will look to add a touch more precision as the run proceeds.
- Ron Simpson (reviewed at Hull Truck Theatre)