Published: 14:27, May 27, 2024
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Comedy hit is hair-raising experience
By Xing Wen
Actors of the comedy, Shear Madness Salon, actively interact with the audience in Beijing. It is the Chinese version of the hit interactive whodunit play, Shear Madness. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Entering the theater, the stage is set up like a hair salon, with brightly colored walls, a plethora of hair products arranged on shelves, and two perming machines standing behind styling chairs. That's the classic stage setting of the hit interactive whodunit play, Shear Madness.

As one of the longest-running nonmusical plays in the world, Shear Madness has been performed in Europe and North America for nearly five decades. The US English-language play has been adapted into 28 foreign languages, with residential performances in many countries and regions.

Since September 2021, the Chinese comedy company Mahua FunAge has adapted it into a Chinese version titled Shear Madness Salon, which has now been performed more than 2,000 times nationwide. The immersive stage play has established long-term runs in seven cities across China — Zhejiang province's Hangzhou, Jiangsu province's Suzhou and Nanjing, Hunan province's Changsha, Guangdong province's Shenzhen, Sichuan province's Chengdu, and Tianjin.

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The play debuted in the country's capital, Beijing, on May 16. It will be performed 14 times at the Drum Tower West Theatre in Xicheng district until Sunday, allowing Beijing audiences to experience the charm of this interactive hit comedy firsthand.

During the warmup session before the show begins, the audience can go onstage and enter the "salon" for hair washing, haircuts or manicure services.

In the first half of the play, the plot, as expected, revolves around a murder mystery in the salon — the wealthy pianist who lives upstairs mysteriously dies. The suspects include a flamboyant hairdresser and his flirty yet airheaded assistant, along with a sassy woman and an antique dealer. The detectives search for evidence at the scene, question each suspect, and carefully analyze the case.

As the plot thickens and the murder mystery unravels, the lights above the audience come on, and all audience members are invited to participate in solving the crime. They help the detectives reconstruct the events and gather clues, questioning the suspects to piece together the mystery.

During this segment, much of the dialogue is improvised by the actors. The audience erupts in laughter as the actors always manage to deliver quick-witted and hilarious comments to random inquiries from the audience.

The interactive area extends widely. Even those seated in the back rows can be invited onto the stage to join in solving the murder.

At the end of the play, the audience members vote to identify who they believe the murderer is. The different endings are determined by the vote, making each performance unique.

"About half of each performance is improvised, but we have to stay true to our characters," says Feng Kangjie, an actor who plays one of the detectives.

"We answer every question and make every move based on our characters' personalities, never breaking characters from start to finish."

For its debut in the capital, the production team focused on incorporating local elements. They researched place names, dining preferences and common phrases in Beijing to tailor the show to the local audience.

Fei Yiqun, general manager of Mahua FunAge's Shanghai branch, highlights the interactive nature of the play, with two-thirds of it involving audience participation.

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"With each show drawing a different crowd from various regions, every performance takes on a unique flavor. This short stint of 14 shows in Beijing is primarily aimed at getting in sync with the local audience," she says.

After gathering feedback from the short Beijing run, adjustments will be made and plans are in place to establish a more immersive, long-term residency in the city, Fei adds.

Similar to its long-term residencies in other cities, the long runs in Beijing are also likely to be settled within commercial complexes in the future.

"This helps blur the boundaries between daily life and entertainment spaces, reducing the psychological barriers in consumer spending," Fei explains.