South Street Arts Centre
On 22 July 2015
Review by Liz Allum
Victoria Melody could unearth an interesting story from almost anything. This time, it’s hair extensions.
When Victoria Melody was in training as a beauty queen for her last performance, she was regularly adorned with other people’s hair. Typical of her work, she asked a really obvious, but often completely overlooked question—do you know whose hair this is?
Her question took her far afield, from India to Russia, and ultimately ended up back in the living room of a member of her family—a young parent can’t live without her hair extensions.
Surrounded by three television screens, our charming, warm and slightly nervous narrator introduces us to the absurdity and painfulness of gluing human hair into human hair. The staging is minimal, it hints at hair salon, but it needs nothing more than the voices and presence of the women she is talking about.
Her style is direct and engaging, as she talks with and through recorded interviews and footage of her explorations into the hair trade.
I had expected to find harrowing tales of exploitation and poverty, and without a doubt those are there, but this is the story of how important hair is. For a woman in India, shaving her head is a gift to the gods, returning the goodwill and kindness she has been shown. She battles to get the temple to have her hair ‘tonsured’ a religious but understated process of fulfilling a vow of thanks. She is pleased that her hair is going to make someone else feel good.
Other women in other parts of the world experience this industry differently, and it is Victoria’s understated, cheerful narrative and her unswerving dedication to asking the ordinary obvious questions that we so often leave unasked that packs a gentle punch in this work. It softly demands that we consider the people behind our products, and it also celebrates the special place hair takes, in so many cultures, and how strangely we all express that importance.
The story of hair highlights the interdependence of a modern consumerist world, of supply and demand for the strangest things. In some of the shadier corners that she uncovers, we see the system being manipulated by men, and we ask ourselves, who has the power here, who decides and who profits from this unregulated market. It is the men she meets that leave her feeling uncomfortable. But we always return to her quest to find the woman whose hair she has, and it is the hair itself that bridges the perceived divide between the giver and the wearer.
The television screens bring the women and their stories directly in to the room, their presence is palpable, and this adds to the knowing discomfort that we feel, as we face our own consumerism, or the fact that a woman may be paid as little as £5 for hair that will sell for over £1,000 in the UK.
Subtle, charming, and very funny, Victoria Melody is a skilled and engaging narrator for this documentary style story.
You can catch the (hair) piece at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.