Barber Shop Chronicles
A National Theatre, Fuel and Leeds Playhouse co-production.
On tour to 23rd November 2019
Leeds Playhouse 20 – 23 November 2019
Writer Nua Ellams
Director Bijan Sheibani
Designer Rae Smith
Lighting Designer Jack Knowles
Movement Director Aline David
Sound Designer Gareth Fry
Music Director Michael Henry
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes no interval
Men behaving better
From the minute you arrive you know you are in safe hands; the welcome from the cast who will give you a seat, a “haircut” and a selfie if you want, kicks off a night when masculinity is given a chance to show its non – toxic side. Ellams’s play uses what goes on in barber shops from Peckham to Johannesburg, via Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra to explore the fun, togetherness, and tenderness as well as the doubt, fear and difficulty of being male. And if this all sounds a bit much – 12 blokes on stage for the whole night long – it isn’t. It’s gleeful, thoughtful and life-affirming, a delight.
The play follows interlinked stories, creating an intimate picture of what diaspora means; as families stretch across the earth there is a son for whom his father scarcely exists because he can’t find him on the Internet, and a father who’s son only exists through what he has found there.
The clever central idea is well served by a script that isn’t afraid of the tougher questions but also has a delicate touch encompassing, for example, a man making a robust defence of Mugabe and the near-surgical business of dealing with a pimple.
The production is exemplary. Whip smart transitions create each new barber shop with minimal resources. A chair, a trolley and the all-important mirror are enough. Above, a skein of lights surrounds a flashing globe which highlights which country we’re in. The acting is a real ensemble affair with consistent and careful character building alongside dazzling flashes of sheer showing off.
When the cast break off from precisely observed clipping and chatting, music and dance sometimes take over with energy rolling over the footlights. This is high style, high skill and a truly absorbing night out.
Adé Dee Haastrup
Elmi Rashid Elmi