Saturday, January 26, 2019

Is That Too Hot? A close shave with bankruptcy threatens a salon at the heart of its community (The MAC until 10 Feb + NI tour)

Patricia Gormley’s second professionally-produced play is a hair-raising tale of the ups and downs of the staff and clients at Buns’R’Us, a fictional west Belfast hair and beauty salon.

Is That Too Hot? features young trainee Jolene who can barely work a kettle but has the ambition to graduate from just sweeping the floors. Ailing Granny Eileen shuffles in on rollator and relates all the gossip from the nearby sheltered housing, accentuated with malapropisms and outbursts of swearing that catch the audience off guard. Mrs Hughes Queues is a snob with a posh-sounding son and a fur hat that hopefully protects her ears from the slanderous gossip others spread about her. And then there’s jet-setting Chelsea Marie who has walked up more aisles than enough in her budget airline cabin crew job but now needs to hurriedly arrange her nuptials.

Christina Nelson twists her body into each of these characters, drawing each with their own set of mannerisms (a quivering leg, fiddling with buttons, flicking hair), a great set of accents and comic timing that allows a myriad of jokes to have the space to land and garner laughs from the willing audience.

This sequel to I’ll Tell My Ma benefits greatly from a second actor. Roisin Gallagher sustains the show playing the hair salon owner Olive who sports an impressive ‘updo’. Somehow in the midst of managing her staff and customers, she has forgotten to manage her finances and the future of her business looks bleak.
“I work all night I work all day / To pay the bills I have to pay”
The first sounds of the play, heard through the salon’s hi-fi, aptly set the scene for dramatic predicament facing Olive. While the build-up of jeopardy is patchy in the first half – which essentially introduces the characters and sets up the community spirit – the final climax and resolution is tear-jerking.

Directed by Alan McKee, the pair clearly enjoy bouncing off each other. Gallagher’s poise, eyebrows, empathy and pathos make her a believable salon owner who can relate to all the nonsense that comes through her door and lend a listening ear and a wee act of kindness.

Community theatre can be twee and cheap. But Is That Too Hot? is a well-constructed and well-observed piece of theatre that celebrates the best of community without having to shamelessly mock it. The local references and Glider gags anchor it in west Belfast, but the themes and characters are universal.

Is That Too Hot? is a sweet and warm introduction to the new year that certainly gave last night’s audience a lift. Its run in The MAC continues until 10 February after which it’ll tour through Lisburn, Cookstown and beyond!

Photo credit: Simon Fallaha

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