Barber Shop Chronicles Review, The Roundhouse
PUBLISHED: 14:36 29 July 2019
Inua Ellams' joyful, thoughtful look at African masculinity and the relationship between barbers and their clients is vivid, funny and moving
Inua Ellams' joyful, thoughtful look at African masculinity has become a phenomenon since it premiered at the National Theatre two years ago.
After touring the globe, Bijan Sheibani's vividly realised production gets a well deserved run at Chalk Farm's favourite music venue, where the hardworking ensemble generate a party-like atmosphere pre-show; mingling with the audience, inviting them into the chairs for selfies and breaking into dance.
These interconnected vignettes, linked by evocative close harmonising and choreographed scene changes with Barber's chairs on wheels, transport us from Peckham to Harare, from Joburg to Lagos in a series of conversations between men and their crimpers.
It's a relationship that inspires confession and intimacy as they open up about football, politics, fatherhood and colonial legacy - the only drawback to the round-setting that you sometimes strain to hear Ellams' poetic, nuanced dialogue which lets us into the lives of these flawed human beings.
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They are boastful, angry, generous and surprisingly tender, their masculinity sometimes problematic but never oppresively toxic - as each his shown his new 'do in the mirror, he nods in approval at his image.
A jittery drunk explains why South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation policy left Apartheid victims frustrated, a Nigerian businessman discusses trade, Zimbabweans debate the pros and cons of Mugabe - an educational reminder of how few African voices are heard amid our dominant white-Western discourse.
On a human level an old man is given a free haircut and a job interviewee who ran out without paying returns with a gift.
Back in Peckham an angry son wrongly blames his father's business partner for his prison sentence, Eric Shango's analytical Tanaka debates reclaiming the N-word, Demmy Ladipos' motormouth Bad Boy showboats about dating white women and a young actor wonders how to audition for a part as a 'strong black man'.
It's funny, moving, life affirming, enlightening, in short, good theatre.