Caro Meets Children's Show Interview

Jasmine Chiu: Hairy

By | Published on Friday 23 June 2023

We’ve been following and loving the work of Spymonkey for more years than I can remember, I think, because they make the sort of physical theatre that our team tend to really love: hilarious, clever, often dark, often surreal, and just brilliantly executed. 

Their upcoming London offering ‘Hairy’, a family show suitable for children aged six to twelve, opens at Polka Theatre soon. I spoke to cast member Jasmine Chiu to find out more. 

CM: Can you start  by explaining to us exactly what ‘Hairy’ is about? Does it tell a story? 
JC: ‘Hairy’ is set in the Hair Control Centre of a human body where hair follicles live.

Hairriet, Hairmione and Al-ist-hair are the lead commanders here and their job is to assign new follicles to different parts of the body to grow into hair – think Arm Hair, Knee Hair, Ear Hair. In stumbles our hero Hairnry who wants the top job – to be a Head Hair. 

The team teaches Hairnry the complexities of hair – how it can be used to express the identity, culture, religion and ideology of a person. They put him through training modules that tackle common challenges like dandruff, nits and even a trip to the hair salon. 

CM: How would you describe it in terms of a genre or performance style? 
JC: The world of ‘Hairy’ is utterly unexpected – it’s colourful, whimsical, with a slightly sci-fi feel to it. It’s strange, bold, and totally hair-larious.

Audiences will never know what’s coming next but they’ll be laughing and crying out of their chairs most of the time. And at other times, the show serenades us with the beauty and importance of expressing ourselves with whatever hair – or not hair – we’ve got.

CM: Can you tell us about your own role in the show? 
JC: I play Hairriet and I am the General Major nit and Dance Captain who makes sure Hairmione and Al stay on track to train up Hairnry as the best hair he can be. 

CM: How did you come to be involved in the show? What made you want to perform in this?
JC: I did a workshop with Spymonkey last year and just totally fell in love with the team, the work they make, and the playful and supportive environment they create.

My background predominantly comes from contemporary dance, and only in the last few years have I ventured into devising theatre and performing it. I have never worked in comedy but always thought I had a funny bone in me – and Spymonkey showed me that I did.

And so I was ecstatic when they invited me to be part of ‘Hairy’. I also find making theatre for young audiences a beautiful thing that can be so delicate, sophisticated – and of course fun. And the experience of making this show has not disappointed. 

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the rest of the cast? 
JC: The cast is extraordinary. There’s me playing Hairriet, Matthew Faucher as Hairnry, Katie Grace as Hairmione, and John-Luke Roberts as Al-ist-hair. We are all so different as people and all very versatile in our skillsets.

Matthew rocks out on his guitar and just has a total coolness about him, Katie sings us a magnificent rendition of ‘Rapunzel’ in the show with her stunning voice, and John-Luke makes me laugh every time he opens his mouth and plunks groovy chords on the keys. 

CM: Can you tell us about the rest of the creative team? 
JC: The team is led by our brilliant co-directors Toby and Aitor who work super collaboratively with us to make sure we are the funniest hair follicles we can be. Toby also takes the lead on composing the funky music and sounds in ‘Hairy’.

Lucy is our designer and is always in rehearsals to help us envision the kind of physical world ‘Hairy’ lives in – making the hairstyles of our dreams into reality. Rajiv, our incredible lighting designer, is key in helping audiences see the bizarre and delightful world of ‘Hairy’.

And Yvonne, our sound designer, helps us hear all the crinkly, gloopy, and glamorous sounds of ‘Hairy’. 

CM: Can you tell us what your favourite type of hair is? 
JC: My favourite type of hair is my own hair – because it’s mine! I have long, straight and smooth black hair that turns dark brown under lights.

I used to want curly hair when I was younger but now I embrace all the different hairstyles I can fashion with the hair that I have. I love it with all its sleekness, sideburns and baby hair glory.

CM: And now, can you tell us a bit more about yourself? Did you always want to be a performer? How did your career begin? 
JC: I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Canada where my mom put me in ballet classes when I was about eight years old. So my route to becoming a performer quickly became a lifestyle.

I intensely trained in all kinds of dance styles and went to the Boston Conservatory to get my bachelors in contemporary dance. I then freelanced for a couple years in New York before moving to London on a total whim.

In those years I worked with contemporary dance choreographers like Wayne McGregor and Akram Khan, and also started collaborating with visual artists, musicians and cinematographers. Varying my work eventually got me to move more into acting, physical theatre, and making my own solo work. 

CM: What have been the highlights of your working life so far? 
JC: In 2019 I played a lead role in an Off-Broadway kung fu musical called ‘Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise’ which gave me a crash course in learning martial arts whilst working with the writers of ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and singing songs by Sia.

During the pandemic I landed my first small role in a little feature film called ‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ – spoiler: I didn’t get eaten by dinosaurs!

I then played the feral child in ‘How It Ended’, Unicorn Theatre’s production of ‘Wild’ – an adaptation of Emily Hughes’ storybook – which I adored and had an outrageous time playing.

And more recently I worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company / Improbable performing in the magical world of my dreams, ‘My Neighbour Totoro’. 

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
JC: Working with Spymonkey is an absolute dream because it’s really injecting my performance practice with so much more play, freedom and silliness.

I’m really excited to take what I learn from being part of ‘Hairy’ into the rest of my work as I continue to pursue theatre, movement, puppetry, film/TV, and whatever comes my way. 

I have also been working on my own one woman show called ‘At Broken Bridge’ which looks at mental health in the context of East Asian culture through movement, text, sound and puppetry, which I will continue to develop and put in front of more audiences.

But my mindset generally is to go with the flow – because over the years, things which I never knew I’d ever even dream of have come my way and I am constantly surprised by whatever’s around the next corner. And I love it.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
JC: I just performed in an exciting premiere of a new music theatre piece called ‘Untold’ by Alex Ho and Julia Cheng.

It uses dance, opera and new music to tell the story of Ye Xian – a Chinese folktale which predates the western tale of Cinderella, and which is similar to it – and we are looking at its next touring dates.

Likewise, after this run of ‘Hairy’ we’ll be looking at touring the show as well, which will be great fun. I also just filmed a couple roles in some TV shows I cannot name, so will be looking for those to come out in the next year!

Other than that, there are things brewing and things I don’t even know are coming my way yet – so whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it!

‘Hairy’ is on at the Polka Theatre from 1 Jul-20 Aug. For details and to book tickets, head to the venue website here.  

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