Theatre: The Politics of Black Hair in a Toronto Salon

January 13, 2024
4 mins read

Review: Da Kink in My Hair

By Shaun Hutchinson 
 
Those old enough may remember fiery disputes between Black women with relaxed hair, forced to defend their ‘conscious’ credentials to sisters with natural or locksed hair.
 
People with shorter memories may know the Black feminist writer, Bell Hooks’ affirmation of self ‘happy to be nappy’ which celebrates the versatility of our people’s hairstyles.
 
Hair has long been a battlefield when it comes to Black women. Symbolically and literally. Both a visible sign of a conscious sista’s personality; and with memories of  mothers teasing out their daughters natural curls with brushes, combs, potions and greases [DAX, Pomade !!].
 
But in life, as with hair and appearance, nothing is straightforward. How our sisters wear their hair is a decision for them alone. Natural, braided, in dreads, cornrows, or wrapped Erykah Badu style – it’s a person’s substance which determines their personality. Even the infamous gheri curl!
 
These were my thoughts researching the European premiere of Trey Anthony’s ‘Da Kink in my Hair.’ The play dramatises the frustrations and insecurities of a group of black women against the backdrop of a day in the life of Letty’s Caribbean hair salon in Toronto, Canada.
 
The story revolves around Novelette – played by a majestic Karen Robinson in a persuasive performance of everyone’s favourite hairdresser – whose customers lives are told through drama, spoken word, comedy and dance.
 
With original music and performances of E’marcus Harper, Amina Alfred and keyboardist Thompson Egbo-Egbo this is a piece in which the entire nine-member, all-female cast is equally comfortable singing, dancing or acting. The combination works flawlessly – the dancing, the music, the spoken word pieces and the monologues.
 
Through a series of emotionally candid monologues, The English-born, Canada-based comedian and playwright Anthony uses humour, spoken word, and brutal honesty to explore issues some of the Black community’s unmentionables – incest, child abuse, sexuality, interracial relationships, suicide and infidelity.
          
    
 
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The playwright is a regular on the Canadian comedy circuit and has also written for the Chris Rock Show. In Da Kink, Anthony perfectly captures Caribbean dialect and language with stinging one-liners and a knowing grasp of  rich Caribbean language and informal speech.
 
The monologues make this piece though: With actors in spotlight on a dark set, the effect is intimate, powerful and moving as the audience adopts the role of silent confidante to these women.
Imagine sitting in on confidential counselling session. That was the effect of these personal, sometimes, bitter and harrowing monologues, punctuated though by humour and knowing comedy. 
 
It’s more than the intimate details of these women’s lives that is being portrayed here though. The piece untangles the knotty problems of child abuse and homosexuality, as well as better known concerns of racist violence and profiling – and, of course, Black women’s hair.
 
But there was humour too. With each character’s weaknesses and  frustrations candidly and movingly articulated and captured in a salon which is healing space as well as liming spot.
 
Despite the Hackney Empire’s poor central heating there was a warmth and spiritual connection – between an audience absorbed by the power and conviction of a cast who know their craft and empathise with the stories told. And the after show party warmed the atmosphere as guests and performers got a release from the emotional intensity of the evening.
 
Amongst excellent performances, d’bi Young stands out with an amazing portrayal of a young girl navigating the emotional maze of loyalty and honesty – as a victim of child abuse.
 
Da Kink in My hair dramatises the lives of Black people, articulated through the unique voice of Black women. And that’s the strengths of this piece. These concerns are universal – acceptance, self-belief, identity and affirmation. How we Black people wear our hair, and deal with appearance and acceptance is the outward expression of a search for fulfilment. 
 
“Sometimes I’ve wanted to get rid of the kink in my hair, and other times I’ve loved it and felt glad it was there,” says Anthony, who plays sassy, no-bull hairdresser Novelette, the one who knows every woman’s secrets by the hair she cuts and styles.
 
“Most black women I know have gone through transformations,” says Anthony. “We’ve had it permed or pressed or shaved or taken back to its original roots. I’m locking mine now in dreadlocks.”
 
“So am I,” smiles director Weyni Mengesha. “The kink’s the African thing about us you can’t deny. If you press it, straighten it, change it – it’s a total reflection about how you want to be seen, what you accept about yourself.”
 
No matter how you wear your hair you’ll leave willing to explore your own identity, weaknesses and insecurities but also refreshed and exhilarated.
 
Main photo by David Laurence

 
Hackney Empire 09 November 2006 – until 25 November 2006
 
Playwright – Trey Anthony
Director – Weyni Mengesha
Cast – Karen Robinson, Quancetia Hamilton, Lisa Codrington, Toni Anderson, Satori Shakoor, Abena Malika, D’Bi Young, Rachel Lea Rickards, Zina Brown
Musical Direction – E’marcus Harper
Choreography – Ma’at Zachary
Lighting design – Steve Lucas
Vocals/percussion – Amina Alfred
Keyboardist – Thompson Egbo-Egbo
 
To book: Phone: 020 8985 2424  Fax: 020 8510 4532 E-mail: boxoffice@hackneyempire.co.uk
 
Shaun Hutchinson is a London-based journalist and The New Black Magazine’s theatre critic.
 
Please e-mail comments to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com

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