Snakes and Ladders, The Hawth Studio, Crawley, Tuesday, April 22
It’s fascinating how apparently trivial topics can be used as starting points for looking at larger issues.
Snakes and Ladders, written by Sarah Naomi Lee and directed by Kerri McLean, explores the subject of hair, using real-life hair stories (mainly from black and mixed raced people) to delve into important subjects, such as identity and family.
The play is set in a black hair salon where three sisters, Amma, Sista and Kitten, are getting ready for a hen night before Kitten’s wedding.
They are joined by Amma and Kitten’s kooky friend Simone and start having some fun, bickering and gossiping about past times and their various hair issues. However, as the story progresses, things start turning sour and it becomes clear that the characters’ various hang-ups about their hair are concealing some pretty serious problems.
Snakes and Ladders is an effective ensemble piece and the four skilled performers interact in highly believable ways.
Cathy Tyson is very convincing as Amma, an outwardly sensible, if somewhat pious, character who is hiding some tragically unhealthy and arguably hypocritical behaviour.
Janet Kumah is strong as Sista, a woman with a tough, no-nonsense outlook that seems to have excluded her from her sisters’ emotional lives.
Allyson Ava-Brown gives a surprisingly moving performance as the delightful Kitten, whose bubbly positivity masks a fragile nature, as well as some real inner pain. Her apparently innocent obsession with having straight blonde hair seems to be mixed up with her desire to escape a dark incident in her past.
Nicola Blackman portrays Simone as an eccentric but likeable figure who’s easy for the audience to side with. However, she hints at a potential sinister side to her character too. Simone’s affection for the three sisters seems pure at first but, as the play progresses, it becomes questionable whether she’s really helping or whether she’s being a bit manipulative.
The mixed media approach to the story is effective, with background projections giving us an insight into the characters’ minds. In one scene, for example, Sista reminisces about playing with Kitten’s hair as a child and being obsessed with her small natural curls. The background projection shows a close up of a child’s curly hair, letting the audience know what images are appearing in Sista’s imagination.
The “hair snippets”, cuts from pre-recorded audio interviews with members of the public, are a nice touch too. They’re sprinkled throughout the performance, revealing a variety of goofy, amusing and sometimes upsetting stories from real people.
Moreover, these snippets give the production an extra dimension, showing how big truths can hide behind supposedly small issues, not just in a work of fiction, but out in the real world.
By Lawrence Smith