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Barbershopera's Tom Sadler On Beards

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I tried to grow a beard once before, six years ago, at the age of 24, when playing the part of an uncle who was rather too fond of his niece in a student production of ‘How I Learned to Drive’. Even then, I could only manage a semi-beard, although I liked to think that its scragginess was ideally suited for the role’s combined demands of redneckness and incest-predilection.

This year, I have no real excuse – I’m playing the part of Famine, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as well as Consummates the Greek barman, Charlie the eight year old puppet and Caveman One. But for some reason or other, I’ve decided to grow a beard again during this year’s Edinburgh, Bjorn Borg-style. I am marginally more hirsute than the previous attempt, but frankly, it’s still a fairly poor effort so far. I guess this is just down to genetics; Rob, my fellow founder and writing-partner of Barbershopera, once grew a full-on Karl Marx effort in about a week, and even when shaving regularly, has a five o’clock shadow before he’s finished his Fruit and Fibre. The beard has throughout history been considered a symbol of masculine sexual virility; judged purely on the basis of our facial follicles, Rob is Barry White while I am more like Jimmy White.

When asked why he had climbed Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary is supposed to have replied “because it’s there”; this pretty much sums up my motivation for letting my facial hair run free for a couple of weeks. But there are probably other subconscious things going on too: some sort of pathetic assertion of masculinity, or an attempt to look a bit cool and alternative when I know that I am not and never will be either of those things. Either way, the process has led me to thinking about great beardoes past and present, and whether they went through similar internal debates – did WG Grace wonder if he just looked like a bit of a plonker the first time he made the leap from smooth-chinness to fully-fledged face hedge? At what stage did David Bellamy stop letting it grow free and start trimming it a bit round the edges? Did those guys out of ZZ Top have girlfriends when they put down the razor? And if so, did those ladies continue to give them all their loving, not to mention all their hugs and kisses too, throughout the patchy-cheeked times?

To put it all in context, I’ve done a painstaking trawl through all the salient primary sources (Wikipedia), and discovered some interesting beard facts: apparently they grow faster in the summer, which at least vindicates the timing of my Fringe fuzz. Although then again, I am in Edinburgh, where it’s always winter and never Christmas. In the Kabbalah branch of Judaism, the hairs of the beard are thought to represent channels of subconscious holy energy – I am doing a play about the end of the world, so that probably helps a bit. In Ancient India they could be pledged as payment of debts – I’ve certainly got a lot of those thanks to Barbershopera, might be worth asking smile.co.uk if they’d consider an alternative repayment plan; while in the Middle Ages, holding somebody’s beard was thought to be such a serious offence that the perpetrator would be in danger of being challenged to a duel. So basically: hands off, fools.


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