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Dark and Lovely review – black hair story, told straight

Hair is just hair, right? Actually no. All those adverts for shampoo that turn women into goddesses with a single squirt are testament to the store we set by our tresses. Hair is never just hair. Particularly not if you are a black woman. So let Selina Thompson, invite you into her tumbleweave (an igloo fashioned from hair), and watch and listen as she puts her hands down the plughole and pulls up strands of stories that highlight what hair really signifies.

This is a lovely show, generous and simple, and sometimes showing glimmers of anger as it doles out rum and explores personal experience, facts and fictions, stories and semiotics, cultural appropriation and the psychology of colonisation, Toni Morrison and Franz Fanon, and weaves them together in one messy, textured show.

At its bruised heart is an examination of female beauty and the experience of a young woman who everywhere she looks sees worth and desirability equated with Rapunzel-like long straight blonde hair. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the US’s first black female millionaire cornered the market in straightening products. Particularly when the pencil test – wrap a strand of hair around a pencil and see whether it stays – could determine job prospects in the UK and US.

Black hair is a charged subject: what does it say about you if you go natural or decide to use relaxing products? In one of the most potent sections of the show a member of the audience is invited to unplait Thompson’s hair as she tells us about the bi-weekly rituals of hair washing that created a strong bond with her mother. “An entire day of mum’s attention twice a month.” Like spending a very enjoyable hour at a really friendly hairdressers, this is a solo show that gets to the roots of more than hair.

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