Following two hugely successful runs at the National Theatre and a world tour, acclaimed playwright Inua Ellams’s Barber Shop Chronicles is a certified hit that gathers praise and rave reviews everywhere it goes. Louise Chandler didn’t hesitate to grab a ticket when the show came to her neighbourhood in Oxford.
On any given Saturday afternoon, in the right part of town, walk along a busy, city high street and chances are you will see a barbershop full of black men. There will be a TV blaring music videos or sports back to back! Or a sound system with some bassy tunes playing so loud that you can hear the tunes long before you approach the shop.
A group of black men will be sat or stood, some having haircuts while others simply hang out to chat about politics, relationships, society and no doubt they’ll be cracking a joke or two. This familiar scenario has been painstakingly brought to life in Inlua Ellams play: Barber Shop Chronicles.
“..the barbershop represents companionship, a place to express frustrations to brethren who understand, pass judgement on politics, indulge in a gulp or two of rum and encourage each other.”
When I walked into the theatre during the first night of the performance at The Oxford Playhouse, there was a full-fledged party happening on stage. The cast sang and danced like they were at a night club. I quickly found my seat while wondering “am I disturbing their rehearsal?”. The cast energetically jumped off the stage to chat to members of the audience like we were firm friends, took photos with people and looked like they were genuinely having fun.
It then dawned on me. This is what the play is all about. Camaraderie, banter and jokes start this story of a day in the life of a barber shop in five different Caribbean – African inspired locations.
As you sit in the audience, you are transported to different barbershop time zones in Peckham, Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra. We observe the lives of men who are at different ages, life stages and have various motivations for popping into their barbershop for a quick trim.
The storylines interlink and connect in humble, humorous and clever ways. There are dialogues and social commentaries that clearly share messages about what it means to be a black man nowadays, giving a voice to an often-under-represented community. I admired how music and vocal harmonies in native language were used to narrate the storyline and keep the momentum of the day!
This play by Inua Ellams reminds me that barbershops don’t just serve a purpose to give guys “short, back and side with a fade” haircut. In this world of chairs and clippers, the barbershop represents companionship, a place to express frustrations to brethren who understand, pass judgement on politics, indulge in a gulp or two of rum and encourage each other. Emotions are raw, tussles and arguments take place, but the stage is set for a play that explains what it is like to be vulnerable, have regrets and strive to survive in a world that we often don’t fit in to, or understand.
This is the world of Barber Shop Chronicles, much like the black hair salon for women; it’s an accessible world that we can all relate to.
Catch Barber Shop Chronicles at the following locations and times
Eden Court, Inverness
16 – 19 October 2019
Book tickets for Eden Court
Nuffield Southampton Theatres (NST) Campus
13 – 16 November 2019
Book tickets for NST Campus
20 – 23 November 2019
Book tickets for Leeds Playhouse
23 October – 9 November 2019
Book tickets for the Edinburgh Lyceum