barber shop

Picture: Marc Brenner

Barber Shop Chronicles

Birmingham Rep


Arriving at the theatre stressed from the journey, I was immediately drawn in by the energy of the pre-show music and action on stage. The barbers and their customers involved members of the audience in their banter, some even trying out the barbers’ swivel chairs and taking selfies with the actors.

This is a play about men, specifically black African men: their humour, swaggering, boasting but also their fears and anxieties. The barber shop is a place for discussing politics - personal, local and international – for gossip and, on a deeper level, for trying to make sense of their own lives among friends. It is described by the barber in Lagos as “… a beacon, a place where men go to be men”.

The action is rooted in a barber shop in Peckham, South London and from there we visit barbers in Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra over the course of one day and a football match, Chelsea v Barcelona, a connecting factor across the world. This talented ensemble of 12 creates many exuberant characters in every setting; each scene is interspersed with dance and music – rap, hip-hop, grime (I think – I’m not an expert), together with traditional African rhythms and harmonies. It is a fast-moving and polished production.

The open stage setting from Rae Smith, incorporates scaffolding, barber shop signs and telegraph poles, each topped with a spaghetti tangle of linked wires that light up during scene changes, emphasising the communication and connectivity within their world. The barber shop chairs and equipment form three sides of a square, creating a performance space for the telling of tall tales but also an arena for verbal, and sometimes physical, confrontation.

There are plenty of jokes but, as the evening progresses, we become aware of the underlying sadness of displacement, of feeling cut off from traditional values and shared experience and the problems of being a man today.

This is a world that many of us will never visit in real life but the goodness and humanity shine through, creating an understanding of lives very different from our own, which is surely the essence of good theatre.

The cast featured Maynard Eziashi, Adé Dee Haastrup, Emmanuel Ighodaro, Demmy Ladipo, Mohammed Mansaray, Anthony Ofoegbu, David Webber, and incoming cast members Micah Balfour, Okorie Chukwu, Tom Moutchi, Elmi Rashid Elmi, and Eric Shango. Both Maynard and David have been with the show since the world premiere at the National Theatre in 2017, notching up over 600 performances between them – and that is a lot of haircuts!|

Written by Inua Ellams and directed by Bijan Sheibani, the barber’s shop is open for business until 28-09-19 and then on tour.

Sue Hawkins


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