Review: Barber Shop Chronicles - Will you join the cast on stage for a selfie and an imaginary haircut?

UPLIFTING, buzzing with energy and snappy, often politically charged dialogue, Inua Ellams’ insightful study of the male psyche brings the rhythms and beats of Africa to the Capital for a theatrical experience that begins long before its start time.

By Liam Rudden
Tuesday, 29th October 2019, 4:54 pm
Barber Shop Chronicles

ROYAL LYCEUM, Grindlay Street

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Get there early and you can engage with the cast on stage as they dance, laugh and take selfies with those brave enough to venture onto the set. At a snip, you might even get yourself an imaginary haircut.

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It all sets the scene for what is to come; a whistle-stop world tour of barber shops, dropping in to eavesdrop on conversations in locations as far afield as Lagos, Kampala, Harare and Brixton. As stories intertwine, the topics become more and more diverse; from disciplining kids to the essence of being ‘a man’, from the evolution of language to Mugabe, national and cultural identity, and a particularly thoughtful reflection on genocide, the barber shop fulfils its role as ‘a lighthouse for the community, where men can be men’.

It is the equivalent of the pub, a place where people meet to put the world to rights, where storytelling keeps memories alive.

A beautiful piece of writing, which only briefly flags during the one hour 40 minute performance (the piece is delivered straight through, without an interval), the tales are brought to life by a tight knit 12-strong all male ensemble playing 30 roles between them.

A stand-out performance from Anthony Ofoegbu as Emmanuel, a man with a secret, anchors the action but he receives strong support from Mohammed Mansaray as the young headstrong Samuel and Micah Balfour, who doubles as Winston and Shoni.

Rae Smith’s colourful yet sparse set design is nicely inventive, providing a versatile playground for the actors to explore, while Bijan Sheibani’s direction drives the action from one snapshot of life to the next, creating, on the whole, nicely crafted vignettes that hold the attention.

At its heart, one tale holds Barber Shop Chronicles together, and as its strands come together, the universal nature of humanity has never been more evident.

Don’t miss this truly joyous production from the National Theatre and a cast who invest it with unfettered love and immense conviction.

You might even say this play is a cut above the rest.

Run ends 9 November