BARBER SHOP CHRONICLES. Stunning, vibrant, dazzling, electric, sublime and sensational barely begin to describe this wonderful experience of drama and music.
As the audience wanders in they are greeted by thumping rap music. Some of the cast members are dancing along with the music and chatting and joking amongst themselves. They pull a few audience members onto stage to sit in the barbers’ chairs, have mock haircuts, take selfies and boogie with the cast. The stage is full of the paraphernalia of a barber’s shop including some gorgeous old posters: Three Kings Barber Shop, Abrams Gents Salon, Haircut Chizkop Brush, and Tinashes Trims. The stage goes dark and then the lights hit the striking all male, all black cast before they burst into lively rhythms and an energetically choreographed dance routine.
BARBER SHOP CHRONICLES explores the lives of African men. The play examines what it means to be a man, and especially what it means to be an African man. The audience experiences the encounters that men of all ages, of various levels of education and prosperity and from different language groups have when they visit their barber. Everyone gets their haircut from time to time so it makes a barber’s shop a perfect environment to catch up with news, share views, talk about sport, politics and women, argue, tell jokes and discuss problems.
Various characters wander into various barber shops in London, Harare, Kampala, Lagos, Accra and Johannesburg for a haircut, a chat and some comaraderie. The narrative focuses on the clever interplay and explorations of masculinity within the relationships. The clever device of the barbers and customers following a Chelsea versus Barcelona match ties each city, and each shop whilst looking at one of the universal interests of men. Each scene is separated by highly enjoyable musical interlude. The cast rearranges the stage as they sing and dance. The singing ranges from highly rhythmic to sublime harmonies.
The drama, dance and music is consistently excellent. They all complement one another making Barber Shop Chronicles a rare example of good dramatic theatre with quality music and dance. At times the rich African accents made the dialogue difficult to follow, but this barely detracted from the experience.
Inua Ellams is the writer of this marvellous work. I have praise for all behind this production: Director Bijan Sheibani, Designer Rae Smith, Lighting Designer Jack Knowles, Movement Director Aline David, Sound Designer Gareth Fry, Music Michael Henry, Fight Director Kev McCurdy, Staff Director Stella Odunlami, Barber Consultant Peter Atakpo, Company Voice Work Charmian Hoare, Dialect Coach Hazel Holder, and Tour Casting Director Amy Ball.
The cast is listed alphabetically, reflecting the high quality ensemble nature of the performances: David Ajao, Peter Bankolé, Tuwaine Barrett, Maynard Eziashi, Bayo Gbadamosi, Martins Imhangbe, Patrice Naiambana, Cyril Nri, Kwami Odoom, Sule Rimi, Abdul Salis, and David Webber.
I thoroughly recommend BARBER SHOP CHRONICLES. It is playing at The Seymour Centre as part of the Sydney Festival until 28th January.
The show will then move on to the Perth Festival where it will play the Festival between the 8th and the 18th February, 2018.