Recently we attended the Stratford East theatre to watch Somalia Seaton’s acclaimed play Crowning Glory. The play ran from the 17th October 2013 to the 9th November 2013. Admittedly all we knew before going to see it is that it was to do with Afro-Caribbean hair and was highly recommended to watch. We were curious to see how a play like this would navigate such a political minefield.
Undoubtedly within the African-Caribbean community, how a woman wears her hair can be a highly contentious issue. What Seaton achieved with Crowning Glory, was a dexterous balance between highlighting these conflicts, exploring them, at times mocking or satirizing them, and still leaving the audience challenged in terms of their own personal convictions.
Something that highly impressed us was the breadth of attitudes towards black hair and race that the play really stuck its teeth into. There was no shying away from experiences such as the impressions of natural hair instilled in young girls in weekly battles with their mother’s combs, the discomfort, rejection and name-calling based on shade of skin, awkward attitudes of white people towards black hair, identity issues, and the exoticism of black women and their hair.
The commonality of these issues was really seen in the reaction of the audience to these scenarios. It was clear many identified with the scenarios portrayed and they vocalized this. Undoubtedly this was one of the things that made the play so powerful; it’s ability to mock and poke fun one moment, yet just as quickly switch lanes and pull you into the deeply sensitive and emotional undercurrent of the issues being portrayed.
Seaton’s seven female protagonists each represented a mentality or experience that black women (if not black people) everywhere, can relate to, including the white actress who was named ‘Token” in the play. What their monologues demonstrated to us was Seaton’s unapologetic determination to represent these common experiences just as harshly, raw, and uncomfortably as they often occur in real life. There was no shying away from the racism, bigotry, self-hatred, insecurity, brokenness, defiance, and pride the reality of these experiences epitomise in everyday life. There was no character that we could agree with completely, nor completely dismiss – even the token white woman.
Perhaps the aspects of the play that we liked the least, (notwithstanding we could see why they were included), were the video segments featuring real life women talking about their hair and beauty. We personally found them a bit distracting and not really as deep as we might have liked them to be in terms of adding to the play’s context.
All in all, should the opportunity arise again for you to see Crowning Glory, we would highly recommend it. Be prepared however, to feel uncomfortable, to feel nostalgia, to be forced to confront deep-rooted cultural issues and prejudices, to laugh, to feel like crying, and finally to leave asking yourself some difficult questions.