Hairway to Heaven

Salon at The Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin

01/12/2007 - 15/12/2007

Production Details

Hairway to Heaven by Sarah McDougall is a site specific play performed in a working hairdressers, the Salon at The Otago Polytechnic. A WOW! Production, directed by Lisa Warrington, it is a comedy where the characters get cut, washed and styled as they reveal their dramas.

The venue has a capacity audience of 28, so there will be two shows Tues-Sat @ 6.30 and 8.30 with a matinee on Sunday @ 4pm, playing from 1st-15th December.

Everyone will recognise someone in this play. Barbara Power, a trained hairdresser prior to Toi Whakaari, plays Bernadette a hairdresser with big stuff going on. She takes it out on her apprentice Stacey (Sara Georgie Tunoka), who’s been up all night shagging.  The customers are a mix of Dunedinites played by Julie Edwards, Simon O’Connor and Phoebe Smith. They share intimacies while hands run through their hair. It’s what we do.

Remember what you told your hairdresser?   

Ordinary people made fascinating

Review by Terry MacTavish 04th Dec 2007

And thank Heaven for Wow! Productions. Just as the holiday season was looking somewhat sparse in adult fare, along comes this well-trimmed little number, complete with chocolates.

WOW! is a Dunedin-based co-operative of professional actors and directors with an impressive history of producing excellent challenging theatre in weird and wonderful venues. Cherish and Arcadia, both also directed by Lisa Warrington, were sublime productions mounted in the Art Gallery, and pubs, museums and even the Railway Station have been well utilised. But this space is the best fun yet.

The audience, restricted to 28, is seated around the mirrored walls of Aoraki Polytechnic’s actual Hairdressing Salon, so much part of the action that a couple of lucky punters get free trims and head massages.

Clearly it is central to the realism of Hairway To Heaven that Barbara Power, cast as Bernadette the manageress, is a certified hairdresser as well as an actor, and a large measure of the viewing pleasure comes from watching her really washing, cutting, curling, and dyeing. Even more pleasurably, all those fascinating salon-snippets of other people’s lives, that you normally eavesdrop on unsuccessfully, are teased out to a satisfying fullness.

Bernadette is having a bad day. Not only is her gambler husband busily disposing of their assets, but her assistant has let her down and she has to rely on Stayci, her accident-prone apprentice, for dubious help in dealing with the double load of clients.  

Barbara Power is immaculate in the role, harried but in perfectly groomed control, with the calm soothing tones of the true hair professional, who is always part psychotherapist. The very funny Sara Georgie Tunoka plays Stayci, cringingly credible as revelations about her sex-life distract her from her job with disastrous results. When Tunoka is in top-burble she can make Vicki Pollard seem slow.

The clients, all eight of them, are similarly well-cast, and played with marvellous versatility by the very experienced Simon O’Connor and Julie Edwards, and talented young Phoebe Smith. So much is going on that it is hard to pick favourite scenes, but I did love O’Connor as a vain TV presenter, showing grim restraint while he deals with Edwards, hilariously creepy as a not-altogether-flattering fan. ("I’ll tell my auntie I saw you. She said you dyed your hair!")

Smith gives us first a tough young mum from a Women’s Refuge, in holey fishnet tights, getting her dreadlocks cut off ("He’ll never recognise me!") then is back in no time as a check-out chick desperate for pretty curls to please her husband. Sitting close enough to touch her, the audience is so involved there is a collective sigh of relief when the result, after an agonising moment of suspense, delights her.

Although packed with lively incident, seventy minutes is not time enough for great depth, and with characters rushing in and out while two or more heads are being dressed and conversations carried on, the play could have been quite confusing. That it was not is due to the skill of director Warrington. The space is ingeniously used, amusing details of stage business are never allowed to interfere with the smooth flow of action from one group to another, and the splendid team of actors are encouraged to engage with their characters. Warrington ensures that all is impeccably timed and untangled.

Writer Sarah McDougall has said she thinks ordinary people are fascinating and full of juicy stories. Hairway to Heaven bears witness to this, and with such inspired direction and performances, the ordinary is here transformed, a visit to the hair salon made richly memorable. The chocolates were good too.


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