Book review: My Name Is Not Wigs! by Angela Cobbin

The title of this fascinating theatrical memoir is more than just a nod to one of the many amusing anecdotes found within its pages. How many of us theatre lovers, hand on heart, could name the wig designer working on our favourite productions? In her autobiography My Name Is Not Wigs!, Angela Cobbin MBE sets out to challenge that, taking us on a journey through her years working with the biggest names in theatre, and revealing what a critical part she and her colleagues play in bringing some of our best-loved characters to life on stage.

Beginning her career as a hairdresser in the 60s, Angela moved on to design wigs for the models at Madame Tussauds, and was eventually headhunted to join the National Theatre. Since then, she’s worked on countless productions in the West End, on Broadway and all over the world, as well as in TV and film (including a stint working on Spitting Image) – and her memoir drops names right, left and centre as she recalls getting sassy with Ian McKellen (it’s fine, he deserved it), watching Judi Dench play backstage pranks, and having doors held open for her by Luciano Pavarotti (even if she did think he was a stage hand). There’s a real sense of community in the stories she tells, and it’s thrilling to get a small insight into what goes on behind the scenes – though it’s perhaps less heartening to realise just how much success in the theatre can depend on knowing the right people at the right time.

It’s also fascinating to learn more about the world of wig creation and often hasty application. We can all appreciate a good quick change, but how many of us spare a thought for the costume, hair and makeup team left behind in a perspiring heap when the actor walks back onstage after a 90 second turnaround? More importantly, these pages offer an opportunity to see wig design through the eyes of someone who understands it to be an art form in its own right, and to appreciate that it’s far more than just “doing hair”; it’s a crucial detail with just as much power to make or break a production as any other aspect of design.

The book is a very easy read, which strives to explain the intricacies of both hair and show business in a way everyone can understand. Many specialist terms are followed by a “translation” in brackets, allowing the readers to picture each scene even without knowing all the right terminology (there are lots of actual pictures too, which also help). There’s never a dull moment, which keeps those pages turning as we dart from one star-studded anecdote to the next, and Angela is a compelling narrator; it’s clear early on that she takes no nonsense from anyone, which generates more than one humorous story, and that she’s never been afraid to take a risk in the pursuit of her passion.

Whether or not you’ve ever had any interest in wigs, My Name Is Not Wigs! is a great read, shining a light on an often-overlooked aspect of the showbiz world, and the amazing life of a woman who’s been a key part of that world for decades. An interesting, enjoyable book, and definitely recommended for anyone with a love for theatre and the arts.

My Name Is Not Wigs! is available to buy via Amazon.

Theatre Things received a free digital review copy of My Name Is Not Wigs! as part of the online book tour.

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