Fringe movement: my walk-on part in the great hairdressers’ revolt

Johan Goossens (second l) performs during Kapsalon Theater at De Kleine Komedie in Amsterdam. Photo: ANP/HH/Robin Utrecht
Hair: the musical? Or Johan Goossens in the Kapsalon Theater at De Kleine Komedie Photo: ANP/HH/Robin Utrecht

When I was younger I thought joining a rebel alliance meant hanging out in the jungle with an assault rifle and a bandana, or distributing underground literature by motorcycle under cover of darkness.

Even two days ago I wouldn’t have imagined that my biggest act of civil disobedience to date would involve cycling down the road to an improvised hair salon in a suburban theatre. But these are unpredictable times we live in.

De Nieuwe Regentes is a small venue with a big history. For the first 75 years of its life it was a public swimming baths, nestling among terraced apartments on the Weimarstraat in The Hague.

In 1995 it was closed and scheduled for demolition. But the local community campaigned to save the building and reopened it a year later as a small theatre, run mainly by a team of 100 volunteers.

So with theatres staying closed under the increasingly unfathomable Dutch lockdown rules, the venue reinvented itself again, for one day only, as a hair studio, under the ‘Kapsalon Theater’ banner.

At 4pm around 60 of us were ushered into the auditorium and spread ourselves around the stalls, dutifully wearing masks and observing social distancing. In a surreal twist, we needed to show a QR code to enter our illegal gathering, as if the pre-lockdown rules had been adopted as a renegades’ charter.

Three hairdressers’ chairs had been set up at the front of the stage, which was otherwise minimally dressed with a piano, two chairs and a microphone. The hairdressers carried shoulder bags stuffed with brushes, scissors, mirrors and hair product, and I wondered if they’d practised packing them at speed in order to make a clean getaway.

It’s a bold and perhaps foolish act to have your hair cut in front of an audience, especially by a stranger without the safety net of a mirror. And it gained an added frisson when the compere told us that the council enforcement wardens had been at the door just before the performance started. ‘I don’t think we’re going to make it to 5 o’clock,’ she said.

The hairdressers emerged from the audience, unpacked their shoulder bags and set to work as local singer Tess Merlot worked through a repertoire of French chansons.

It started to feel like being in a 1920s speakeasy, where the easy atmosphere was tinged with the knowledge at any moment the music could be interrupted by a single gunshot and the sound of people stampeding for the exits as the feds bust the joint.

But then I remembered that this is the Netherlands, where instead of gun-toting feds we have community wardens (boa’s) whose main weapons are a book of fines and a raised eyebrow. I started to relax and appreciate the fact that for once I could get my hair cut without enduring half an hour of Dutch radio.

Sure enough, we made it to 5pm without any late drama offstage. In that sense, it wasn’t so much a rebellion as an act of self care.

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