Newsroom, political platform, local hot spot, confession box, preacher-pulpit and football stadium. For generations, African men have gathered in barber shops to discuss the world. Inua Ellam’s new play is set in various barber shops the world over. From Peckham to Lagos, Barber Shop Chronicles sure does take us on a world tour.
It’s a tour spanning many different countries, and yet the place they gather all share the same value. Community is a huge part of this piece and this shines through wonderfully in each and every scene. From a group-led football match to a one-on-one heart-to-hearts; the feeling is always present. It’s heartwarming in every aspect and beautifully portrayed here.
But before we get there, let’s talk pre-show. While members of the audience pile into the NT’s Dorfman to take their seats, they aren’t greeted by the familiar sight of a blank stage. Instead the atmosphere of a thriving and busy barber shop is in full-swing on stage. And the audience? They’re the customers, of course! A moment of directional brilliance from Bijan Sheibani. Pulling us as an audience up on stage for their our haircuts and the occasional banter regarding some of the more questionable hairstyles on display was nothing short of genius: the mood instantly lifted. Senses heightened and interest is piqued… and that’s before the show has officially started.
A strong cast of 12 bring this piece together, each using other’s energy to bounce off of and soar. This is a high energy, upbeat performance and so it’s difficult to call out any one performance, as to do so would diminish the contributions of everyone. While not every scene shines as brightly as the pre-show, some much less so, those sparks of excellence re-appear in between scenes. No two scene changes are the same and each are expertly thought through and executed, often leaving us wishing for a scene to end just to experience it again.
We’ll repeat it again, this show is all about community. A celebration of the diverse and wonderful black culture expressed through visits to the barber shop become a pivotal component. Expertly directed and scripted, it also includes many scenes in numerous local dialects. Hilariously funny and witty with casting leaves us desperate for more.
Now, when can we get another appointment?
Gay Times gives Barber Shop Chronicles at the National Theatre – 4/5