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‘It really was like listening to our staff room at times’: ‘Deadly’ hair salon caper is bang on

Rachel Carey’s debut feature, set in Dublin, is a joy, agree two hairdressers and Lucy White

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‘Deadly Cuts’, which will close this year’s Dublin International Film Festival, is set to join Irish comedy classics like ‘The Snapper’ and ‘The Commitments’

‘Deadly Cuts’, which will close this year’s Dublin International Film Festival, is set to join Irish comedy classics like ‘The Snapper’ and ‘The Commitments’

‘Deadly Cuts’, which will close this year’s Dublin International Film Festival, is set to join Irish comedy classics like ‘The Snapper’ and ‘The Commitments’

The pandemic has taught us many things, one of which Joan Crawford long ago recognised: “I think that the most important thing a woman can have — next to talent, of course — is her hairdresser.”

In their lockdown absence, hairdressers have emerged as overlooked key workers who are inextricably linked to our self-esteem. We all knew the power of good hair men and women, but it wasn’t until we’d experienced four-inch roots and wonky, home-cut fringes that we realised just how invaluable are their services.

And so, as a broad token of thanks, I invited two hairdresser friends — Maria Callaghan, academy director of Toni & Guy Ireland, and her colleague, senior stylist Joe Hayes — to a “covideo” preview screening of Rachel Carey’s debut feature, Deadly Cuts.

The movie is a Dublin-set jape — scheduled as the closing film of this year’s Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival — in which gentrification and a dangerous gang threaten to derail the hair salon of the title.

Angeline Ball shines as its long-suffering owner, whose motley styling crew — Ericka Roe, Shauna Higgins, Lauren Larkin and Denise McCormack, also brilliant — is hell-bent on entering a prestigious hair competition to improve the salon’s failing prospects.

Imagine Strictly Ballroom for hairdressing: kitsch flashbacks, flying sequins, billows of hairspray — and humour blacker than a Just For Men home kit. Throw in shades of Netflix’s Good Girls and Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave, and you’ll still be surprised by a denouement that has more twists and turns than a bubble perm. But what would real-life hairdressers make of the movie —would it, pardon the pun, make the cut?

Callaghan and Hayes admitted to some scepticism about seeing their world mirrored on screen, but when WhatsApp started pinging with their crying-laughter emojis and quoted lines (“Me head’s like a bleedin’ Malteser!” “It’s me irritable bowel, me nerves are gone!”), I knew Carey had struck gold.

“If the writer wasn’t a hairdresser, she has someone in her family that is. She nailed it,” says Hayes and, sure enough, writer/director Carey worked on reception at Peter Mark after college. “It really was like listening to our staff room at times,” Hayes adds.

As well as amalgamating every colleague they’ve ever had over their long, successful careers, he and Callaghan loved how the film lampoons the pomp and ceremony of live hair awards, where salons showcase their most artistic creations and increasingly outlandish inspirations — often to a backdrop of light shows, dry ice and throbbing EDM.

“The hair demo, with everyone fawning over D’Logan Doyle [played here by a preening Louis Lovett]…” says Hayes. “We’ve definitely watched stuff like that. I may have even done stuff like that. It shows a heightened reality, for sure, but it’s definitely based on our reality. Anyone who isn’t a hairdresser would love this film, but anyone who is a hairdresser would really relate to it.”

Callaghan agrees. “There have been many times where I’ve literally had to keep a straight face when entrants were talking about the inspiration for their look. Just do the hair, let’s stop talking rubbish about it, you know?” she says, referring to D’Logan’s fellow judges, played with relish by Pauline McLynn and Rory Nolan.

Dublin’s north/south divide is unashamedly depicted, with both sides affectionately mocked. However, it’s the northside characters that take ownership over their perceived scrappy status and to subversive effect. ‘Liberal elite’ playwrights and screenwriters can be accused of laughing at, rather than with, working class characters. How does Deadly Cuts fare in that regard, I ask the two northsider hairdressers.

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“The so-called posh hairdressers were more laughable, really,” says Callaghan. “But no hairdresser is that posh!” adds Hayes, of Victoria Smurfit’s upper-crust salon owner.

There are one-liners aplenty, surely destined to join the Irish canon alongside The Commitments and The Snapper, at least among the salon fraternity.

On Smurfit’s character: “Don’t be intimidated by her with the €100 brows”; on an awards rivalry: “over my dead f**king hairpiece” and… well, most are too blue for this newspaper, with Enya Martin, as the promiscuous Lindsay, particularly ribald.

“I’m going to have to use that line ‘Get to work, you beautiful blow-drying bastards,’” says Callaghan, of a more moderate quip, before adding: “I genuinely think that if you watched it again, you’d probably laugh more because you’d keep picking up on all those one-liners. There were some proper moments where I was on my own, laughing my head off. My husband came in and was like, ‘so it’s good then?’”

We all agree that watching the film in a packed auditorium would be a hoot, and hope it gets a summer release in actual theatres. Meanwhile tickets for its Dublin International Film Festival premiere on March 14 have sold out quicker than a Dyson Supersonic on Black Friday, speaking volumes about our collective need for feel-good comedy and our new-found respect for hairdressers.

So, you’ll need to beg, borrow or steal a ticket for the festival — or be patient and wait until it goes on general release.

Deadly Cuts invites us to recall the gossip and camaraderie of a busy salon, where cutters and colourists become pseudo therapists to clients. And, in a lockdown context, it reunites us with some of the country’s best-loved theatre actors, among them Barbara Brennan, Aidan McArdle, Kathy Rose O’Brien and Laurence Kinlan. With theatres being shuttered for 12 months, it was a joy to see their familiar faces on screen — almost on a par with getting an appointment with your favourite hairdresser when Lockdown 3.0 ends. But not quite.

While Deadly Cuts has its hairdressing heroes, it’s our real-life hairdressers who are the breakout stars of the pandemic, coming to our rescue as soon as restrictions ease.

‘Deadly Cuts’ is the Closing Gala at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival running until March 14, and will go on general release in late summer; diff.ie


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