Described as a piece of dance-theatre that blends numerous music and dance styles, The Head Wrap Diaries delivers an amalgamation of genres but fails to smooth out the mix.
Fusing house, waacking and vogue with African and contemporary dance, dance takes precedence over plot and dialogue in The Head Wrap Diaries. It opens with a strong opening image, but the introductory sequence doesn’t have much substance in and of itself. Audience members are brought onto the stage at The Place, but are soon forgotten. Transitions could be smoother. Such jarring elements are soon forgotten though when the three stars of the show begin to dance with such an economy of style that every precise movement is almost hypnotic. Sometimes they are not perfectly in sync, but a story is being told through their bodies – and perfect syncronisation may well not be the intent.
The best scene is a moment where the women don wigs and launch into some truly awe-inspiring hairography. As the music assures the audience that “it’s yours, you bought it, it’s yours, flaunt it”, the ladies masterfully carry out the dance style of vogueing that could have come straight out of Paris is Burning. All three performers demonstrate impeccable comedic timing – and although it is somewhat undercut by surface-level dialogue, the vocalisation throughout the piece is stellar.
It is possible The Head Wrap Diaries is not particularly interested in relaying a linear plot and has been constructed as a series of vignettes or snapshots from a particular world. In order to establish this though, transitions ought to have been more definitive. Events could also perhaps become less convoluted by reviewing a couple of the music options. One scene, for examples, features a relatively comical situation – and is yet scored by quite sombre music. Though I assume juxtaposition was intended, it was difficult to work out to what end. Despite this, the actresses snap in and out of a plethora of characters with immense ease, differentiating each one seamlessly and effectively.
When attending a piece dealing with a subject matter as specific as Black hair, it was hard on this occasion to not feel like the content was somewhat ‘preaching to the choir’. 90% of the audience at The Place was Black – fantastic in so many ways, of course, given how slanted most mainstream British theatre audiences are (to the contrary). Whilst it’s incredibly thrilling to watch a piece alongside so many other people of colour, it is hard to determine at which point a safe space for BAME talent actually becomes insular.
The Head Wrap Diaries broaches an incredibly complex web of niche shared experiences of a specific group of people – feeling at many times like a pit stop tour of the world of Black hair. Uchenna Dance encourages audiences of The Head Wrap Diaries to stay after the piece in order to generate discussions about the themes addressed, but one wonders if it would be better suited for a more varied audience (especially one that would not necessarily encounter such experiences themselves). The post-show talk would consequently feel more far reaching.
This is not to detract from the strengths of the play. The three performers (Emmanuella, Natalie and Chanelle) are captivating in all their movements. They are charismatic, humourous, vulnerable and vivacious – all at once. And despite a meandering plot, they imbue every character with such conviction and every dance with spark that it is a joy to simply watch them move.