Barber Shop Chronicles at the National Theatre Online
Playwright Inua Ellams brings to the stage the rich and vibrant world of barbershops. Stories of countless black African men and communities are shared and discussed within the walls of these humble establishments. Directed by Olivier award-winning director Bijan Sheibani, The Barber Shop Chronicles celebrates the importance of the titular space not only as a meeting place for socialisation and bonding, but also as a reference point for boys and men alike when seeking guidance and advice. The play shows how the social function of the barber’s survived generations and was carried on into the diaspora experience. It still maintains its role as “a beacon for the community”, as one character states, in spite of the changing times.
Moving across different cities, the work visits barbershops in Lagos, Johannesburg, Harare, Accra and Kampala while following a storyline unfolding in south London. Different concerns and topics circulate in each location, but the verve and flamboyance with which they are expressed remain unchanged. Upbeat musical interludes divide the scenes, which are a series of vignettes exploring a wide range of momentous topics. Politics, religion, money and racism are discussed openly and candidly, sometimes leading to heated arguments. Then there is banter about football; there are comparisons between the past and the present; clashes between generations; and various attempts to affirm or define masculinity. Ultimately, it’s a hub where identities are formed and reshaped through debates.
A cast of 12 male actors switch roles in each scene, always staying in tune with one another and effortlessly keeping energy levels high, in spite of the sedentary nature of the setting. The play opens up the doors to an exclusive space that not everyone can access or is familiar with, and it feels like sneaking into a confessional. The subject matter and mood make this a refreshing production that hits the right balance between humour and drama. This show is not to be missed.
Photo: Marc Brenner