Crowning Glory

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Yesterday I headed down to the Theatre Royal Stratford East to watch a new play by playwright Somalia Seaton. First things first, the bar at the theatre serves Caribbean food and I had jerk salmon for the first time, so I mean the theatre already has a lot going for it. Secondly, I was served by the most gorgeous, bearded bartender with a hint of a regional accent, so I was lovestruck (I will most likely be back here soon...naughty!)
The play ‘Crowning Glory’ is Seaton’s first full production and is an exploration of hair and complexion politics faced by black British women today. Often hilariously funny, the play uses a chorus of 7 women to examine the way childhood memories, treatment from complete strangers and the media today all contribute to the big debate – to go natural, to perm or to weave?
There are a series of monologues from the women, Half-Breed, Pickyead, Panther, Hair Comb, Token,  Bal-Ead and Bounty, with the others forming a an interchangeable chorus throughout, which worked better for some speeches than others; they seemed a bit irrelevant and lacklustre on stage during Bal-Ead’s but brilliant as bobbing wigs during Panthers’. Sheri-An (Hair Comb) gives a brilliant performance as a little girl getting her combed by her mother while simultaneously narrating in the Jamaican mothers voice and Allyson Ava-Brown (Half Breed) articulated a lot of my own experiences as a mixed race girl, of people being fascinated by her curly hair while she herself did not see the fascination. There is a danger of leaning too heavily on stereotypes in the cases of ‘Bounty’ and ‘Token’ (I did enjoy that the subversion of ‘Token’, with the token being a white girl rather than a black girl however) and although the emotions displayed by many of the actors allowed us to see their acting ability, I would have liked to have seen a more balanced view, with some more positive stories related to hair and skin; out of 7 only 1 was without any inner turmoil.
The split level stage was a visually interesting performance space and the sliding screens for the multi media videos were a nice touch. One element that actually detracted from the play were the interviews with regular women about their views on beauty and when they feel most attractive. These could have been played as the audience took their seats as it interrupted the flow of the piece and cheapened the production values.
The final ensemble piece was an impassioned speech about self confidence and finding beauty outside the realm of Western beauty, it did veer on the preachy side but was a positive message for the women in the audience – and there were a lot. I counted 4 men, including my mate who I was with!
All in all, an assured debut from Seaton with a strong message and some interesting theatrical devices so try and check it out while it’s still on.
(Runs until Saturday 9Th November)

Playwright Somalia Seaton

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