BRAVE, brassy, ballsy and occasionally brilliant. That is Lekhani Chirwa in her show Can I Touch Your Hair that premiered (full length version, that is) at the Vault Festival (March 8).
As the title suggests, this is a play about hair – and in particular Lekhani’s hair as she uses it as a vehicle to describe the discrimination she often faced as the daughter of a Malawian father growing up in Cumbria. An unusual name, brown rather than white skin, and unusual hair.
Hair that was sometimes deemed unsuitable at school by her teachers. Hair that her father poured petrol on when she had nits. Hair that she straightened on occasion – looking like everyone else’s – and then experimented with by buying a variety of gels, mousses and conditioners from the ‘black hair shop’. Unusual hair that people always wanted to touch.
The discrimination extended beyond Cumbria – and into London where she was unsuccessful in getting into drama school. But keen to pursue a career in acting, she auditioned for a role, only to be rejected. Was it, she surmises, because her hair was straight in the headshot she sent ahead of the audition, but Afro when she auditioned.
The play’s message is loud and clear. Lekhani Chirwa’s hair is hers, hair touchers should leave it well alone and she (and women like her) is much more than her hair.
Original fare, laced with humour, from a talented individual who can both write and act. Nicely directed by Garen Abel Unokan, Can I Touch Your Hair has enough attitude to get an extended run elsewhere.