Review: The Art of Traditional Head-Tying (East End Performance Crawl)


The Art of Traditional Head-Tying makes its debut in Crow’s Theatre East End Performance Crawl in Toronto

The Art of Traditional Head-Tying is playing at the Ralph Thornton Centre as part of the Crow’s Theatre East End Performance Crawl. In it, as Rosemarie Jon-Charles Hicks, Kanika Ambrose is a force of nature. She demands attention from the second she bursts through the door to her final bow sixty minutes later. What happens in between is funny, touching, and informative.

While not a traditional theatrical venue, the basement room of a community centre is a perfect environment for Ambrose’s one-woman show. The low ceiling, fluorescent lighting and walls full of crafts are an ideal backdrop for the story. Rosemarie has returned to her home island of Dominica (in the Caribbean, between Guadeloupe and Martinique) to teach a class in head-tying.

We, the audience, are her class and we are taken aback by her ample presence and the frustration that fuels the fire in her eyes. She opens up to us and we learn of her disappointment with her old community.

Ambrose portrays several characters: from her materialistic nieces to a former boyfriend who tries to re-ignite their old romance. We discover that the art of head-tying was handed down to her by her grandmother, and she desperately wants to pass it on to the next generation, but they don’t seem interested.

With remarkable fluidity, Ambrose takes us from the classroom, to her grandmother’s grave, to the home where she lives with her nieces. She performs most of the dialogue live, but there are some pre-recorded sound effects and voice-overs. I much preferred the live delivery. The pre-recorded moments sometimes felt rough around the edges, especially when she had to interact with them. Ambrose is such a powerful presence that they pale in comparison.

We are given a glossary of terms along with the program to help us understand some of the language. Don’t worry, there’s no pop quiz and you don’t have to refer to it throughout the play; you’ll just leave knowing a little bit more about the subject. For nerds like me, that’s a selling point.

The play is very much about cultural heritage and its value. Rosemarie tries to convince her class and her nieces that the skill she’s teaching can be a source of pride. It’s heartbreaking, actually: watching her struggle to communicate the beauty and importance of a dying art. And it’s not just about head-tying; she’s honouring the memory of her late grandmother.

Ambrose will be bringing her show to the Toronto Fringe Festival this summer. If you, like me, are curious to see how a show develops, check it out here first. She’s a forceful performer, full of humour and warmth—and intimidating when she needs to be.


Photo of Kanika Ambrose courtesy of the company.