Playwright Selina Thompson presents to us what she so tenderly names her ‘Tumbleweave’ – a mesh dome structure woven with boundless tresses of Afro-hair extensions. Inside the Tumbleweave is a cosy intimate space decorated with images of African-Caribbean women from times past; beautiful and strong women.
Here, Thompson invites the audience to experience that intimate moment of a mother and daughter, recounting the familiar scene in an African-Caribbean household on a Sunday night before school. Selina cunningly tricked me into taking a seat on the barber’s chair, where which I became part of the play as her hairdresser. Another audience member was invited to concoct a sweet mix of a natural hair headdress with hair oils and natural conditioner.
The play is an engaging deconstruction of the painful journey of discovering what is acceptable styling for women of African descent. What represents beauty. Thompson considers the ubiquitous dominance of the universal blonde straight haired Barbie and the impact it has on women young and old. The internal battles that ensues some African-Caribbean women; on what should be a free and individual choice of expression for everyone.
The play is a retelling of Thompson’s research in Birmingham and her own experiences from a place of empathy and love. We are taken through her autobiographical journey as a youngster and the painful battles she faced based on refusing to conform to the dominant European standard of beauty and asserting her individual expression. It is a play without judgement of African-Caribbean women’s hair choices, it doesn’t make a clarion call for African-Caribbean women to rip out their Indian, Peruvian or Mongolian extensions. Alternatively, it is a challenge to the global European beauty aesthetic.
We see Thompson flit through various hair wigs, exemplifying how hair extensions can be an unofficial language of conformism and coupled with the silent ego boost it brings – ‘Because I’m Worth It’. Thompson wants to understand the Whys? The psychological theories embodied in books by Franz Fanon and the like; the trauma within. The most poignant part of the play is where is where she seemingly simulates a connection spirit intercessed by a bird that brings a sense of healing to her raw pain and assures her that her hair is just hair after all.