Witnessing Selina Thompson’s last solo show, about overeating, at times felt like watching a person bare their soul on stage.
Now the Yorkshire performer is at it again in her latest show, Dark and Lovely, in which she discusses the significance of her hair – from within a giant igloo made of hair.
“I’m really aware that this topic – and a lot of the things I talk about on stage – have a real emotional resonance,” says Thompson. “It’s really uplifting that this show has been met with such enthusiasm and generosity.”
Thompson is such an engaging stage presence that it is little surprise her show has been received so warmly, but she does have a knack of tackling subjects which might prove to be a little difficult for some of her audience.
Dark and Lovely – at the Crucible Studio, Sheffield and Bradford’s Theatre in the Mill this month – is a show that will challenge some audiences because, whether we like it or not, theatre audiences in 2015 still largely reflect a monoculture; and Thompson’s show is very specifically about the hair of black women. “On one level it’s my hair story and my hair journey, on another level it’s a series of stories and interviews collected from various hairdressers and retailers, all of them around Chapeltown Road in Leeds. On another level it’s a broader look at black hair and the afro through history and the economics of all of that,” says Thompson. “It’s the idea of the personal as political, which is what I’m particularly interested in.”
In the show Thompson explores her relationship with her hair and the West’s relationship with afro hair. “If we look at western beauty ideals, afro hair is the opposite of what is considered beautiful,” says Thompson. “Long, flowing silky, weightless and kinky hair, for a long time was seen as the absolute ideal. The afro was seen as the polar opposite of what we were told is beautiful. In the 1960s and 1970s our grandmothers did a lot of work around the ‘black is beautiful’ movement to split that notion, but that meant black hair then picked up on these connotations of being political and pro black.” In the interactive show, presented by Thompson from within The Tumbleweave, built from abandoned weaves and hair extensions, audiences are invited to peer through the Tumbleweave and feel its various textures.
I put to Thompson the notion that a ‘one-woman show’ can conjure up images like that seen in the comedy series Friends, of a woman on stage shouting at the audience. An image driven by sexism, no doubt, but one that people might well have in their minds. Thompson admits that her work can conjure up for people the image of a polemic, but the last thing she wants to do is stand on the stage and shout at the audience. “I don’t think making political work is about being didactic,” she says. “I’m not on stage as some kind of expert. I come as a messy human, having a chat with other messy humans about our messy lives together. We all connect, I believe, on that level.”
Dark and Lovely, the Crucible Studio Theatre, November 18-20. 0114 2496000. Theatre in the Mill, Bradford, November 25-28. 01274 233200.