Sunday, December 12, 2021

Jingle All the Hairspray – a great heart-warming hairytale of Newtownabbey (Theatre at the Mill until 31 December)

Ali has a lot on her mind. The owner of the Scary Bears Hair and Beauty Salon has an important inspection due on the eve of her final day owning the business. And a ten-year wedding anniversary to celebrate. All on top of the colourful customers bursting through her shop door looking to get their hair done or a treatment two days before Christmas.

Jingle All the Hairspray: A Christmas HairyTale a show about second chances – some people deserve them, others are surely only out to hurt you again – and being upfront about what you want in case there’s no tomorrow. And there are messages about looking out for one another, and not being a doormat to domineering and abusive partners.

The show’s anchor, Claire Connor (playing Ali) is first to step on stage with a scene-setting song that anchors the rest of the action. Caroline Curran plays her young assistant Tina while Jolene O’Hara and Mary Moulds spin through the beautifully eccentric clients. O’Hara’s characters start off outrageous (Tracy) and yet grow ever more larger than life (Courtney in need of some intimate topiary), while Moulds has great fun with the sweary old lady and regular customer Pauline.

Patrick Buchanan is the dreamy delivery man who catches Tina’s eye, but also metamorphoses into Ali’s overbearing and villainous husband.

As the playwright and a performer, Caroline Curran knows her audience and has crafted a well-structured script that leads the audience – with a few red herrings thrown in along the way – towards a final confrontation with a twist. And this year’s show throws in a lot more songs, and the cast’s voices are well up for it.

Curran’s sharp-tongued writing together with Garth McConaghie music pepper the plot with musical numbers that keep the comedy flowing whether the words are being spoken or sung. Buchanan is gifted the brilliant I’m just the Amazon man in the first act, while I bet no other show on stage this Christmas will manage to work ‘emphysema’ into a rhyme.

References to local places trigger audience laughs along with hearing aid difficulties, a tan that goes wrong, and a series of wedding emergencies. Although the show is sensibly marketed as being suitable for 16+, any vulgarity remains tasteful.

The mirrors in David Craig and Tracey Lindsay’s one room set create a spacious salon, while returning director Fionnuala Kennedy gives the script space to breath and gather its laughs without allowing the cast to race forward to the next gag. And attention to characters’ mannerisms (the way Ali’s husband pats the cushions with obvious disdain) really adds to the detail of the piece.

After the interval, the emotion ramps up as Ali’s future lurches towards catastrophe. You got us is a great song celebrating sisterhood, while the male characters are rewarded with Another good man got away and Get out! The second act includes a touching tribute to Julie Maxwell, Curran’s former writing partner and regular cast member in the Newtownabbey Christmas show until her sudden death in 2019.

It’s lovely to see the pattern of Rough Girls being repeated with the stage management team (Caoimhe McGee and Holly Greig) coming on stage at the end to take a bow on behalf of the wider production crew.

After a decade of Christmas shows in the Theatre at the Mill, Curran’s regular supporters will have their fingers crossed that she’s not doing an Ali and checking out of such a successful business. The hairytale of Newtownabbey is the latest in a long line of shows the team have produced and one can only hope that they’ll be back in December 2022.

Jingle All the Hairspray is filled with heart and soul. It’s a Christmas tonic that’s down to earth but very entertaining. Catch it in Theatre at the Mill until Friday 31 December.

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