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Barber Shop Chronicles
Photograph: Marc BrennerBarber Shop Chronicles

Watch the National Theatre’s ‘Barber Shop Chronicles’ tonight on YouTube for free

Inua Ellams’s acclaimed globe-spanning play is streaming for the next week

Chris Waywell

With haircuts becoming yet another source of anxiety for locked-down Londoners, and with the Sun moved to report on the sinister rise of the UK’s ‘underground hairdressers’, it’s a great time for the National Theatre to make Inua Ellams’s ‘Barber Shop Chronicles’ available for free as part of its streaming NT at Home series. 

Ellams’s play is also topically global. Directed by the Olivier Award-winning Bijan Sheibani, from a barbershop in Peckham, south London, it jumps across the world to Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra, teasing out threads of African identity and the diaspora. If that sounds a bit worthy and po-faced, ‘Barber Shop Chronicles’ is anything but. It celebrates the near-universal experience of getting your tonsure sorted, and the uniquely theatrical and performative space that is the barbershop. At the same time, it’s funny, raucous and occasionally challenging.

We reviewed it in 2017 at the National Theatre Dorfman and again when it returned to take over the Roundhouse. In 2017, we acknowledged that ‘some pretty hair-raising views get an airing, like defences of abusive fathers, or praise of Mugabe, or damning critiques of Mandela. They’re heard, and grappled with, not smacked down.’ We added: ‘Ellams handles his material carefully, with plenty of political set-piece debates that show it’s as impossible to make generalisations about men from Africa as it is to make generalisations about men full stop.’

Alongside the chat, though, ‘Barber Shop Chronicles’ was universally praised for its ‘hugely fun outbreaks of dance and movement’, its joyousness and sense of vivid life, spanning cultures, countries and the world. 

So if you need something to take your mind off your mop, you couldn’t do better.

‘Barber Shop Chronicles’ streams for free from 7pm BST tonight (Thu May 14) on the National Theatre’s YouTube channel. It’s available for one week.

Find more great theatre to stream right now.

More into ballet than barbers? Four of Matthew Bourne’s works are streaming now.

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