[Review:] JUST A HAIR FURTHER, The Bread and Roses Theatre, London.
The full title of this performance is: Near the Statue Between the Church and the Market Just a Bit to the Right Behind the Pigeon Underneath the Tree Around the Corner Three Steps from the Puddle. And Just a Hair Further. [sic]
It was staged as part of the Clapham Fringe at The Bread and Roses Theatre. To buy your ticket to any of the remaining Fringe events, click here.
Only lasting less than half an hour, I cannot deny that this two-woman performance is very entertaining and fun. Nevertheless, whether it communicates exactly what it sets out to is debatable.
Having not read the description of this performance, an audience member would have no idea that Eleanor Felton and Gaia Cicolani are caricaturising an array of dwellers in a fictional town. This is not communicated well at all. But is this necessarily a problem? Yes and no.
Whatever the inspirations are for their various characters, Cicolani and Felton have put together a wonderful variety of characters, and these are differentiated rather well through repeated skits and distinct physicalities. However, they are perhaps too varied. Some caricatures are extremely animalistic – one pair, upon reflection on the title, clearly being a couple of pigeons, and the others…nondescript; others, very human, ordered, military; and the rest, simply troglodytic. Oh, and the humanised statue. Visually, there is an enormous lack of cohesion and theme, and this renders the collection somewhat overly chaotic and disordered. The final outro, in particular, presenting one final celebratory collage of all of the characters, is simply messy. Admittedly, it is clear as to what is happening in this outro, but is a reflection and re-presentation of the characters like this necessary? I do not believe so.
I would recommend a more systematic approach in strutting the material. As it plays such a monumental part in the conception of this performance, I would recommend that the town be introduced to us at the beginning. There should then be a clear separation between scenes, perhaps of an episodic nature, introducing the various caricatures separately. Material should also be distinctly different from one ‘episode’ to another. As it stands, the two creatives rely far too heavily on one character upsetting the other, and the latter then cries to the audience. This very quickly becomes overplayed and repetitive — and not to mention that this is poorly executed by Felton [more on this shortly].
Organisation of material, then, is irritating. And I do not mean that I would like a sense of plot; this is unnecessary for this performance. But why scenes are organised as they are is very important to consider. At the moment, the material feels far too disparate, disjointed and dissimilar, and this is what makes this final outro…icky for me.
Cicolani and Felton describe this performance as ‘wholesome’, stating in their synopsis that ‘viewers find moments of recognition with themselves and each other, building a deeper sense of shared empathy and connection’…from a bird urinating on a statue? From one ‘soldier’ regulating the movements of another? I do not think so. It is clear that the duo have misunderstood the very nature of their work, which, overall, is too esoteric to lead to any profound emotional reflections amongst audience members. The choice of material is simply strange to me, and not in an inviting, absurd way that takes us on its thrilling ride; it is strange in an ill-communicated and incoherent way. Cicolani and Felton have not understood what effects their material produces and how material combines to produce an overall theme — or not in this case. I believe this is the reason as to why the material is so disparate. They have simply thrown together characters and sequences that they find comedically effective, and the ‘varied quirky townspeople’ is the perfect excuse to sell this off as coherent. The characters, well-defined though they are, are not cohesive at all; they do not paint a bigger picture or communicate any messages to their viewers. This simply is not what the work achieves.
It does, however, succeed in presenting comedic skits to its audience. The characters, for the most part, are engaging, sweet and enchanting. They are otherworldly, comical to observe. I would just recommend staying away from repeating the same routines over and over. This is a half-hour performance; there is no excuse for anything resembling repetition.
As far as performativity is concerned, Cicolani is by far the strongest of the two. She demonstrates wonderful physicality and expressivity, from the scrunching of her brows to the pointing of her toes. She performs with spectacular corporeal tension, flexibility and form. A very talented performer and a great mime. Felton, however, is incredibly frustrating to watch, I must say. Any physicality is restricted solely to the upper body, often with emphasis on the face alone. My advice would, of course, be that she pay attention to what her legs are doing on stage but, more importantly, to the localisation of tensions throughout her entire body. This is especially important for what I shall refer to as the ‘sword scene’, the ‘dancing scene’ and for all of those countless portrayals of ‘crying’. We should see the imagined force concentrated in her legs as she tries to lift the heavy object and should see complete distress and limpness throughout the entire body when she ‘cries’. This is mime, not psychological realism. Perform! Felton is simply too limp, uninvograted, and her underperformative mimes are often completely illegible as a result of this.
To finish, some short and trivial notes that are perhaps unwanted from me… Firstly, I must note that the grammar in the title is very poor. Second, whilst acknowledging that I did not pay, myself, I did notice that the price for this performance was £9 [£7 for concessions], and I must say that this is definitely overpriced. £6 at most! No more than this! Third, leaving the curtain open, revealing the toot in the wing, and sitting on the side of the stage with your back to the audience…no! Completely demolishes any sense of illusion. If you need to sit off to the side, cross your legs and remain on stage. Otherwise, you needlessly extend the performance space into the territory of ‘the realm of the real’. Fourth, do not spin on the scaffolding holding up the fly tower! Incredibly dangerous. And finally, a rather awkward note…I would recommend changing the costume. Thematically, though it is somewhat questionable, I have no real concerns with it. However, given the amount of physical movement required from the performance, this costume proves to be rather ill-fitting…the shorts are simply too high and revealing. They rise. This would perhaps be excusable if it were a decisive element of the performance, but I do not believe this is intentional. An awkward note to end on but necessary to mention, I believe.