‘Barber Shop Chronicles’ review

Theatre, Drama
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(6user reviews)
 (© Marc Brenner)
1/14
© Marc Brenner Demmy Ladipo
 (© Marc Brenner)
2/14
© Marc Brenner Anthony Ofoegbu and Micah Balfour
 (© Marc Brenner)
3/14
© Marc Brenner Anthony Ofoegbu
 (© Marc Brenner)
4/14
© Marc Brenner Emmanuel Ighodaro and Demmy Ladipo
 (© Marc Brenner)
5/14
© Marc Brenner Emmanuel Ighodaro
 (© Marc Brenner)
6/14
© Marc Brenner Emmanuel Ighodaro
 (© Marc Brenner)
7/14
© Marc Brenner Emmanuel Ighodaro
 (© Marc Brenner)
8/14
© Marc Brenner Eric Shango and Anthony Ofoegbu
 (© Marc Brenner)
9/14
© Marc Brenner Maynard Eziashi
 (© Marc Brenner)
10/14
© Marc Brenner Micah Balfour
 (© Marc Brenner)
11/14
© Marc Brenner Micah Balfour
 (© Marc Brenner)
12/14
© Marc Brenner Mohammed Mansaray and Okorie Chukwu
 (© Marc Brenner)
13/14
© Marc Brenner Mohammed Mansary
 (© Marc Brenner)
14/14
© Marc Brenner Tom Moutchi and Micah Balfour

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Inua Ellams’s brilliant drama stages a joyous takeover of the Roundhouse

Talk about a well-deserved victory lap. Inua Ellams’s brilliantly vivid, funny, moving drama about the importance of barber shops to the black African and diaspora experience has played a couple of stints at the National Theatre and toured the world. Now it’s taking over the Roundhouse for the summer, mercifully supplanting the usually iffy experimental work the iconic venue tends to indulge in at this time of year – it’s the centrepiece of ‘Fades, Braids & Identity’, a season ‘championing the work of black and brown artists’.

I don’t have a huge amount to add about Ellams’s 2017 play, other than to note that it’s still pretty wondrous. Spinning a complex, occasionally intersecting web of vignettes set in barbershops in Lagos, Johannesburg, Harare, Accra and Kampala – juxtaposed with a ‘main’ plot set in a south London barber’s – it makes the case for the barbershop as a liminal space that unites the diaspora, as people breeze in to share stories, share a joke, share their love of Chelsea FC, and sometimes bear their souls. To this uptight Eastern European, it also seems to be a fond celebration of a certain type of performative African masculinity: a love of a tale told loudly and flamboyantly that feels at glorious odds with taciturn Western ideals of Being A Man.

A couple of things have been lost in the move to the Roundhouse. One is the exemplary original cast – the new one is good, but they’re not quite in the same league, and some of the more emotional notes, particularly in the ‘main’ London-set story, don‘t land. Another slight problem: the sound was occasionally soupy and the odd bit of dialogue got lost.

But if that’s the price to pay for staging it in the Roundhouse then bring it on. Bijan Sheibani’s production was joyous even within the stately confines of the Dorfman. In this gigantic north London gig venue it’s positively carnivalesque. It’s probably the best space in the country to stage something in the round; the cast has acres of space to perform Aline David’s extremely fun movement sequences; the giant light-up wireframe globe of Rae Smith’s set looks like it was made to sit under the vaulting dome of the Roundhouse roof. And perhaps most important, the pre-show has become central to the night. This is a half-hour before the acting starts in which the audience is invited down on to the set to hang with the cast and enjoy a blaring selection of bangers played loud over the PA.

What with the terrifying heat and the big silly eejit in number 10, it’s perhaps not a vintage London summer. But this last hurrah for ‘Barber Shop Chronicles’ is something to savour. 

Details

Users say (6)

5 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

4.5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:3
  • 4 star:3
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|6
2 people listening
tastemaker

Completely brilliant. The moment you step into the theatre you sense that you're about to see something unlike anything you will have seen before. I've seen this show twice now, and both times had me clapping like a sea lion, huge smile plastered on my face. Fantastic cast, powerful writing - Inua Ellams is an exciting and much needed voice in the arts. 

Tastemaker

Barber Shop Chronicles is an excellent production, which totally justifies its return to the Dorfman after a sell out first run. As a big fan of Fisayo Akinade (who was also in Saint Joan at the Donmar), I knew that I had to get tickets to this. The casting was top notch, and each of them brought a different flavour to the entire production. The production is an expertly woven group of different stories in different African cities and the inter-connectedness really shown through. The cast were energetic and fun. Also top tip: go early to the show if you want a free haircut! It literally is a real barber shop!

tastemaker

Straight up, I have to say I unreservedly recommend Barber Shop Chronicles: I saw it at the end of a busy, miserable week, and left with my heart and spirits uplifted.

The play is fantastic on two levels. Firstly the blend of humour, song, and movement, in line with some brilliant characterisation, means the show is utterly vibrant. You are drawn in to a world that is, to a lot of NT-goers anyway, totally unfamiliar. Secondly, a play with an all-black or mixed-race male cast? It's too rare an occurence, but it was excellent to see here.

If you can manage to get a ticket, get there.

tastemaker

I enjoyed watching the action zoom between different countries around the world and see the differences but also the similarities African men talk about in their Barber Shops. It really presents them as a warm (sometimes quite literally) reflective location where they can be themselves and really say what they feel. Some places it is clear that the Barber Shop is their refuge and is the only place they can go. The story running throughout the piece, and we are kept being brought back to is a Barber Shop in London, where a young man is unhappy because he feels his father's friend is taking over the shop whilst is father's away. 

The relationships built in their play are touching and the amount of different material that is explored in such a short amount of time is impressive. 

Finally a big shout out to the singing and dancing, its glorious and its worth going to see this alone.

tastemaker

I very much enjoyed this play - a good mix of funny, energetic dancing and serious moments. The staging was very clever, with audience members 'getting a haircut' before the start and a very cool way of showing where in the world the next scene was set. Some of the accents were a bit strong and I got lost a few times, and the cheap seats aren't as good as in the rest of the NT, but overall a great show, especially if you are better at accents and richer than me!

tastemaker

Presenting a series of conversations that take place in barbershops around the world, Inua Ellams' Barber Shop Chronicles focuses on the role of these establishments in local black communities. One client comes to sharpen up for a job interview, another to brag, another to gossip and some to confess.


Jumping from South Africa, to Zimbabwe, Nigeria and London, the play is structured around the discussions had over haircuts and shaves, offering up hysterical anecdotes, debates and exchanges. But as joyful as this play is (and you really can't help but beam during some moments), the play also touches on some really powerful subjects, including race, politics and notions of masculinity.


This play is absolutely wonderful; heartbreaking and hilarious in equal measure, with a superb cast who seem completely in tune with one another. I hope that this play receives the audience it deserves, as this is a groundbreaking production - and we need more work like this in the London theatre scene.