Hair Raising Tale
High Kings, druids, and a barber elect who dares to be different, in Wayne Jordan and Tom Lane’s "The Haircut!" exposing a king’s well kept secret might open the doors to his kingdom’s salvation. Fusing live music, sound, story telling and performance, "The Haircut!" delivers a wordy and politicised polemic, one whose moral proves far stronger than the hair raising tale that surrounds it. Yet it’s an experience that's deeply engaging, courtesy of a marvellous score played live onstage, and one impressively commanding performance.
Set in the then and now of Irish folklore, a reimagined King Labhraidh Loingseach has his hair trimmed the same way, at the same time, once a year. After which the dutiful barber is duly executed for fear of them revealing the king’s secret. A resulting decline in barbers leads to a lottery wherein members of the public are selected to be the next barber elect. A dubious honour destiny brings to the door of the self-expressive Kwaku. But his mother, Ms. Trina, has other ideas, and challenges the king to let the young Kwaku live if he promises to keep the king’s secret. But even the smallest secrets have a way of being heard by big ears, and maybe not even the earth, or a cork stopper, can stop them from being found out.
Juxtaposing imaginative, multi-cultural styled colourfulness against notions of a country trapped in unchanging grey, "The Haircut’s!" celebration of openness and self-expression challenges secretiveness, isolation, and conformity. Yet despite its theme of being all the brightly brilliant person you can possibly be, its overworked and humour-light script delivers up a decidedly conventional offering. A straight up, one tone tale whose wordy expositions often land near the duller end of the spectrum, resulting in occasional ripples of restlessness rustling through an otherwise attentive young audience. Sarah Bacon’s cramped set, responding to the instrumental needs of the musicians, pushes everything else to the front, leaving sight lines at either side compromised at times.
Yet if it comes at something of a cost, Tom Lane’s musical compositions played live add depth, richness and texture. Musicians Nicola Ciccarelli, Lioba Petrie and Berginald Rash enhance the minimal theatricality on display and deeply enrich the experience. Yet it is a sparkling Thommas Kane Byrne as the bands buoyant band leader and ready raconteur who provides most of the spectacle, delivering an invested performance overflowing with personality and presence. Working the room with the gusto and panache of a legendary pantomime dame, Kane Byrne’s vocal prowess and powerhouse performance keeps tension alive, and attention where it needs to be, right till the last syllable.
If "The Haircut!" feels, at times, like it might read better on the page than the stage, Thommas Kane Byrne’s ebullient performance circumvents a lot of issues the script’s readable wordiness presents. Aided by Lane’s lively composition, and cleverly worked sounds, which, along with Kane Byrne, help conceal a multitude of sins. But what sins there are, are venial ones at best, in this musically rich and performatively impressive piece of story telling theatre for children eight years and older.
"The Haircut!" by Wayne Jordan and Tom Lane, presented by The Ark, ran as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2019 and continues its run at The Ark until Nov 2.
For more information, visit The Ark.