When Ruth inherits her Aunt’s hair salon, she gets more than she bargained for: Belligerent blue-rinsers demanding their weekly shampoo & set, an untimely visit from Health and Safety and a snooty judge from FAB HAIR all pale into insignificance with the discovery of a dead body under the drier!
Curl Up & Die, which opens this week at the Questors Theatre Ealing, is a brand new farce by Anna Longaretti. Herself a top stylist for 20 years, Anna enjoyed international success with her first play, Sex Cells, which ran for four weeks at Riverside Studios and was subsequently published by Samuel French and even translated into Greek.
We joined Anna in rehearsals for Curl Up & Die – a farce which took this stylish writer back to her roots:
Hi Anna. What made you want to write a farce?
My first play, Sex Cells, surprised me because the things that made me laugh and cry also made the audience laugh and cry and it was the first time I realised that was possible. I wanted to write a piece with multiple roles for women. It can be difficult when you are older because so many schemes are exclusively for young writers. I guess I thought “I don’t want to be ignored” – Sex Cells had been a big success but I still couldn’t get an agent. So writing a farce was a challenge to myself.
Was Sex Cells your first foray into writing?
No. I’ve been writing feature films for 20 years and also acting. I particularly love improvisation and developed the character Lily – a 65-year-old woman estranged from her son. We had a rehearsed reading and I read Lily even though I wasn’t the right age. At the end of the play I looked up and there were people in tears and my husband said “I think your writing is better than your acting – let’s put it on!”
So your first production, Sex Cells, went straight to Riverside Studios?
Yes. I would have put it on above a pub, but my husband said we should think bigger than that. We couldn’t get a producer even though we were fully funded so we went into it blind and just did it ourselves! The run was for four weeks at Riverside Studios – we were told if we ran for more than three weeks we’d get the broadsheets to come and review. Of course absolutely nobody took any notice but the audience and online reviews were fantastic!
What are the biggest challenges for a new writer?
I feel as though “popular” is not always rated and especially so in the theatre. It can feel very elitist. I wrote [Sex Cells] to appeal to the people I know who say they don’t like theatre. I think that my first duty is to entertain but the writing also has to ring true.
Is there a lot of personal experience in your writing?
Yes – I was a hairdresser for twenty years so Curl Up & Die is very personal. Sex Cells was too in that it was the first time that I’d ever handed my baby over, which was excruciatingly painful. In Curl Up & Die, there are three old ladies – really my Mum and my two aunts. The protagonist Ruth talks about them like they’ve got nothing left in their lives – in part that’s true but they still have so much to give. Sex Cells was all about being a mother and felt deeply personal whereas Curl Up & Die draws more on personal experiences.
Who are the characters in Curl Up & Die?
There’s Ruth, an ambitious hairdresser from the West End, three old ladies who have been going in for 50 years and still pay £5.50 for a shampoo and set – Dolly Chorlick, Enid Cotterell and Mavis Lundy. Mrs Cotterell is like my mum, sweet and eager to please but not always the sharpest scissor in the box whereas Dolly is very practical and thinks on her feet. There’s Doctor Lemon who harbours a secret love for Ruth. Bryony is Ruth’s junior and has followed her from a Mayfair salon and there’s Elenka who’s a Slovakian model – slightly bored but really smart. Mr Woodpigeon is a Health and Safety office in love with his work then there’s Gonky Blatant-Severs from FAB Hair Magazine. Finally there’s Jordi Chinchilla, a Spanish photographer who had a fling with Gonky she’d rather forget…oh and finally there’s Mrs Lundy, the body under the drier who everyone thinks they’ve killed!
What are the unique challenges of writing farce?
Writing farce is like trying to unravel spaghetti and then put it back exactly how it was – just don’t forget the sauce!
Who inspires you as a writer?
I love Alan Bennett – but I can also laugh at complete rubbish. Yesterday, I fell asleep on the sofa watching Carry On Spying. Even Chekhov can be funny providing it’s done well – when I saw Uncle Vanya at The Print Room I was in stitches.
Who’s directing Curl Up & Die?
Bryony J Thompson. I’d been to the Rosemary Branch theatre, and Bryony was there with a show that she’d written and directed. I really loved her directing and stagecraft – there were lovely touches and I knew immediately that I wanted her for Curl Up & Die.
What’s your next project?
One is a musical – I don’t do things by halves! There’s actually a song in Curl Up & Die which the cast don’t sing but which we’ll play in the auditorium and for which I wrote the lyrics. There’s also a three hander – I went to a writing course in Edale called Word Theatre and met a woman there who has stage four breast cancer. Obviously that’s a difficult topic but I never want to do anything that’s completely serious – even with the most serious subject matter you have to be able to laugh.
Who should see Curl Up & Die?
Come if you love laughter and love farce! Come if you’re a hairdresser or you’ve ever been to one! John Frieda, Nicky Clarke, Trevor Sorbie – all the West End Stylists from my time in the West End should come!
How can people get tickets for the show?
We’re already sold out for Saturday night and Tuesday to Friday nights have limited availability, but Saturday matinee still has good availability. Book tickets online at Questors Theatre or call the Box Office on 020 8567 5184.
Curl Up & Die runs from 15 – 19 November 2016
12 Mattock Lane, Ealing W5 5BQ
Box Office 020 8567 5184
Curl_Up_and_Die Facebook Page
Curl_Up_and_Die Facebook Event
Catherine Rowney, Rosie Edwards, Saskia Laroque Rothstein-Longaretti, Helen Evans, Kaitlin Feeney, Kate Strafford, Abigail Ribbans, Dennis Farrin, Tom Hartnell, Alistair Scott