Hair Peace is not quite a question of ‘Where Do I Come From?’ so much as ‘Where Do My Hair Extensions Come From’? Victoria Melody writes and performs this one-woman journey into the deepest darkest depths of the human hair industry based on a seemingly innocuous conversation at the salon. In a feat comparable to investigative journalism, she throws herself into every activity that her next production demands all in the name of research.
Meoldy’s previous production, Major Tom, saw her entering both her dog and herself into beauty pageants with mixed success. It was in preparation for one of these pageants that she finds herself requesting hair extensions at the salon, only to then query whose hair she is actually going to be wearing. It’s a journey that takes her from a forensic science laboratory to an Indian ceremony of sacrifice and surrender to a decidedly dodgy Russian business enterprise. All in the name of glamour and a heightened sense of sexual confidence.
Laight’s set is an independent hair salon, complete with mannequin head and pink lighting. It’s exactly the kind of place that stereotypical Essex girls might frequent, paying hundreds of pounds to be adorned with the luscious locks provided by a (hopefully willing) third world donation. It’s where we find Melody’s cousin Beverley; though Northern instead of from Essex, she represents the marketplace, prepared to fork out top dollar in the name of vanity and faux celebrity mimicry. Melody acts as the conduit between customer (whether it be Beverley or other contributors to this £38 million per year industry) and supplier, travelling to both India and Russia to investigate those willing (or not) to shave their heads and perpetuate the cycle. Whilst the initial part of her performance is scattered and seemingly unconnected, Melody weaves personal accounts into her dialogue that prove to be endearing and genuinely moving. She cares about this issue, about the people affected and that translates in her somewhat haphazard realisation on stage.
The props don’t hurt either. Almost as if in a show and tell at school, Melody pulls out Indian, Russian and mystery hair extensions. She passes round clippings of her own hair to highlight the lengths the industry will go to in order to secure this ‘black gold’ – removing it from hairbrushes, carefully washing and straightening the locks ready for shipping and distributing. It’s morbidly fascinating. But at the end, when she plays a Skype conversation between her cousin and an Indian woman who has willingly had her head ritually shaved at the temple of Tirumala Venkateswara, it’s also moving and emotional. So many people contribute to the success of this industry because, like so many meat eaters, they don’t think about where the product comes from. It’s much easier to have inanimate accessories attached to your person than it is to consider the person that had their head shaved to allow you to look like a princess for your school prom.
Melody’s commitment to her craft is inspiring. Once her latest work is past the conception phase, she is more than happy to jump in feet first to ensure that she understands and experiences every inch of her subject material. The result, whilst completely off the wall, is informative and endearing. She connects with those involved in her play as much as she connects with the audience, who leave Hair Peace educated and questioning why as a society we are so set on this stereotypical image of superficial beauty. So desperate are we to look like the celebrities whom we aspire to be that we are prepared to climb into other people’s skin, shrouded in their physical identity without ever considering who these generous donors actually are.
Writer/ Performer: Victoria Melody
Directors: Paul Hodson; Petra Massey
Dramaturg: Rachel Chavkin
Producer: Sean Phillips
Design: Ryan Laight; Joe Murray, Mitch Mitchinson, Evgeniy Kurbatov (Cameras); Richard Davenport, Hugo Glendinning (Photography)
Runs until 25 June 2016
Reviewer: Daniel Perks