The Barber Shop Chronicles by Inua Ellams. National Theatre live until 20 May 2020. 4****. William Russell

A massive hit for the National Theatre and Leeds PLayhouse this film was taken when the show was running at the Roundhouse in January 2018. The action is set in a series of barber’s shops starting in Peckham where an Uncle has taken ane over while his brother is in prison, much to the annoyance of his nephew, and then to Africa, to Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra all on the day of a nerve wracking football match.

It opens with song and then a swirl of barber’s chairs hurtling round the stage before we embark on the arguments in this peculiarly male heaven on earth between customer and clipper. They cover pretty well everything from how Christian missionaries defined what the black man was in Africa, why one took being called a kaffir, to the sins of Robert Mugabe and the ways of Nelson Mandela and Winnie. It is full of life, fascinating and joyful, a wonderful mix moments of anger, moments of sadness, notable one is a particularly touching scene in which a courtly old man reveals he is a little short of cash and gets a free haircut.

The film does its best to catch what is essentially something to be experienced live in the theatre. If you saw it live then this will bring back memories. If is it first time round then perhaps the speed of the dialogue, the sheer pace of it all becomes overwhelming and at times it is hard to follow. That isn’t to say don’t watch, just that filmed theatre is always a gamble. But so would be turning it into a film proper as that changes everything.

Viewed as a record of what happened, a reminder of, and a suggestion of what it was like, it is well worth watching. Director Bijani Sheibani keeps things moving along at top speed and his cast respond perfectly.

Fisayo Akinade
Hammed Animashaun
Peter Bankole
Maynard Eziashi
Simon Mayonda
Patrice Naiambana
Cyril Nri
Kwami Odoom
Sule Rimi
Abdul Salis
David Webber
Anthony Welsh

Director Bijan Sheibani
Designer: Rae Smith
Lighting Designer: Jack Knowles.
Movement Director: alan David.
Sound Designer: Gareth Fry.
Music Director: Michael Henry.
Fight Director: Kev McCurdy.

Filmed at the Roundhouse January 2018.

Photograph: Mark Brenner

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