Home » Reviews » Off West End » Crowning Glory, Theatre Royal Stratford East – Review

Crowning Glory, Theatre Royal Stratford East – Review

Somalia Seaton
Directed by Dawn Reid
★★★

Pros: Crowning Glory is dynamic, versatile, and unapologetic in its exploration of beauty and identity.

Cons: The show concentrates on very specific experiences and may at times feel alienating to some audience members.

Our Verdict: Crowning Glory is a worthy and polished navigation through topics of beauty and identity, combining humour, passion, and style with expertise.

Courtesy of TRSE and Sharron Wallace

Somalia Seaton’s Crowning Glory is a play about owning yourself. Through a series of monologues about the female experience with modern ideals of beauty, the play comments on the experiences and challenges of owning your body and your sense of self in a culture which sets double (and impossible) standards for women’s bodies and relationships to those bodies. Each piece stands alone in its own right and together they form an hour-and-a-half long play. The show delivers a succinct and powerful message about claiming oneself, threaded together by the struggle with a woman’s “crowning glory” (her hair). The script makes a bold and tangible statement about the absurdity of something so external being such an undeniable determining factor for our lives and relationship to ourselves and others.

Nine monologues, several short choruses and interspersed multimedia presentations create a diverse and stimulating experience on stage. The play is both delightfully funny and achingly heartfelt, acknowledging those merely inconvenient things about being a marginalized woman, such as never being able to find the hair product one needs, along with pointing out behavior and association that is unfair and hurtful, such as harassment, ignorance, and fetishism.

While all nine pieces were excellent on their own as noted, a few stood out and really served as anchors for the play’s weight. First was “Pickyead” in which Toyin Ayedun-Alase rails against the injustice of feeling inadequate compared to “dainty Sammy Jo chicks, with their long hair blowing in the wind” while simultaneously being mocked for attempting to look like them. Ayedun-Alase’s performance was highly nuanced, both hilarious and appalling, and the piece’s initial message was surprising and empowering. In “Halfbreed,” Allyson Ava-Brown delivered a truly overwhelming performance as the piece navigated the experience of being born into a mixed race family and the struggle to understand herself, her body, and of course, her hair. Finally, Lorna Brown, in “Panther,” rejects artificial hair on the grounds of respecting herself and her body, in order to counter the pro-weave in ‘Pickyead’ for the same reasons. “Panther” encompassed the essence of the play: “I get it… how you can get caught up in whatever bird’s nest Beyonce is rocking at the moment”. She accuses her listeners of falling prey to the idea that one standard of beauty must dictate their own appearance, that this “suggests an element of self loathing in YOU.”

The play is obviously well-written and well-performed, and in addition is well designed and perfectly suited to the Stratford East. A simple set of ramps and scrims added visual versatility and helped the play’s monologue style to remain dynamic, giving actresses plenty of room to move, change levels, and interact with the space and the audience. Pre-filmed interviews and clips were presented between scenes, presenting real women’s thoughts and experiences on their relationships with their bodies, providing a different insight to compliment the work on stage.

While I found the play to be incredibly moving and overall well-balanced, the only concern I might have for potential audience members is that it might seem at times to be exclusively aimed at females or specific cultures. I for one, think that the fresh and unique perspective of the piece is a blessing. Anyone seeking mere entertainment might be better off sticking with a commercial West-End musical, but anyone willing to mix some challenge in with their fun would find Crowning Glory to be an ideal choice for an evening out.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Crowning Glory will run at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until 9 November. 
Box office: 02085340310, or book online at stratfordeast.com

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