Crowning Glory, Stratford East Theatre – review

Published: Monday, October 28, 2013 1:09 PM | Review by: Gillian Fisher |
Image credit Sharron Wallace - Crowning Glory Image credit Sharron Wallace - Crowning Glory

In Somalia Seaton’s debut play the perils of perming and the trials of texturizing are humorously explored giving rise to much larger issues. The blonde haired, caramel tanned images of perfection splashed across our weekly glossies leave us in no doubt as to what is considered attractive. As seven women offer their monologues we see how these ubiquitous images affect our sense of beauty both in other people and in ourselves. In our society where whiteness is heralded as the ideal, women of colour have a particular fixation with their hair, which is anything but relaxing.

A key strength of Seaton’s writing is her ability to present different viewpoints objectively and with sensitivity

Seaton’s writing is both observational and creative, using a diverse blend of conversational dialogue and lyrical verse. The seven characters are immediately familiar, from the little girl getting her hair braided to the middle aged woman pleading for her husband’s attention. Each monologue is so unique in its perspective and yet there is a running thread (or strand) linking them all together. The seven characters are played by a uniformly talented cast. Toyin Ayedun-Alase played my favourite character in a piece entitled ‘Pickyhead.’ The archetypal rudegirl defiantly struts across the stage speaking in London slang as she defends her waist length weave. Her hair is her business and she is happy with her Brazilian coiffure. Above all this character’s desirability and playground banter has convinced her that this is impossible without her Brazilian tresses.

This is strongly contrasted with the militant ‘Panther’ monologue performed by Lorna Brown. Her high energy delivery is interspersed with finger snaps and foot stamps as she rejects the European domination of the hair industry. The most political character performs the final monologue as a comment upon our society with references to pop culture and slave history. As she ascends the three tiered stage designed by Nick Barnes with her shoulders back and head held high she is positively noble. The intergenerational attitude towards beauty is touched upon in several of the monologues but is most profoundly explored in ‘Haircomb.’ Sheri-An Davis plays a little girl wriggling about as she has her hair brushed. Her Jamaican mother’s determination to make her daughter’s hair soft and moveable is not simply cosmetic. Having faced prejudice as an immigrant she wants her daughter to have all the chances she did not and believes her bright skin and soft hair will help her achieve that.

With such a range of voices, of different ages and from different cities Seaton has produced a thought provoking and expansive piece of theatre

Whilst the production is primarily examining black women’s relationship with their appearance there is universality to the issues raised. This is enhanced by the inclusion of vox pops with women of various ethnicities stating ‘I feel beautiful when..’ or ‘When I look in the mirror I feel..’ Projection designer Dick Straker has skilfully woven these snippets into the play alongside media imagery and hilarious faux YouTube clips. A key strength of Seaton’s writing is her ability to present different viewpoints objectively and with sensitivity. It would be easy to dismiss the prim character in ‘Bounty’ played by Rebecca Omogbehin as simply self-loathing. But as she painfully relives the rejection she has faced from her own family her contrived air seems less arrogant. The issue of rejection from your own race is one that reappears throughout the production. Children feeling less loveable than their lighter siblings, black schoolgirls being snubbed by black schoolboys or black women dubbing mixed race women conceited. Subtly and through personal accounts Seaton demonstrates how far these representations of beauty have pervaded our ideology; an inbuilt colour chart of attractiveness.

Direction by Dawn Reid is considered and tightly brings the numerous scenes together effectively. With such a range of voices, of different ages and from different cities Seaton has produced a thought provoking and expansive piece of theatre. Without judgement and with no small amount of wit this dynamic new writer spreads the message of self-acceptance to a society that desperately needs to hear it.

Info: Crowning Glory is at Theatre Royal Stratford East until November 9, 2013. Book now.

Related links

Somalia Seaton – interview
Crowning Glory – e-newsletter

join our mailing list
* indicates required
Get regular updates on what's happening in the world of African-Caribbean theatre and win theatre tickets.