A barbershop is a sacred place for a man. It is one of the only few spaces that can transform a man from average to exceptional. It’s a place where you can find men from all walks of life; the drunk uncle, school kids, local gangsters, businessmen and professionals all in one room discussing and debating everyday topics. The relationship a man has with his barber is like no other, just as you can’t change your mother; you can’t change your barber. Loyalty is key; getting a haircut from another barber is a taboo. A barber has the power to make a man (yes, it is that deep), and this brings about a unique intimate bond between barber and client; a relationship that is rarely seen outside this unique setting.
The Barber Shop Chronicles
Walking towards my seat, I wondered if I was in the right place. The sounds of Afrobeats were booming from the speakers. The actors and the audience were mingling; laughing and dancing on the stage. I’ve never seen anything quite like this. Members of the audience were ushered by the cast to come on stage for a “haircut” – why can’t all plays be like this, I wondered. The music came to a halt, and the lights dimmed; the audience took their seats and actors assumed their positions. Now the Barber Shop Chronicles was in full flow.
The play written by Inua Ellams takes us on a journey from barber shop to barber shop from Peckham, Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra. No topic is off limits in the Barbershop, and just as in reality the characters share their stories and engage in heated debates. From politics to sports, music, sex, current affairs, nightclub tales, to relationship dramas and father issues. Each of the barbershops in the different cities have their own unique story that binds them all together.
From the moment the customer sits on their chair, there is an inclination to bear whatever is in their soul. And as you can expect, this can lead to heated debates, controversial statements, confrontational moments and flashes of vulnerability.
The writer uses humour throughout the play to tell a beautiful story of the interactions between men. The cast does a superb job of examining the identity of men in a witty, intelligent but raw way. What does it mean to be a man? How does a man deal with trauma? How does a man express vulnerability? These are all themes explored throughout the play.
After all the laughter, dancing and banter, the play left me in a contemplative mood. It made me question; am I emotionally okay? What are my relationships like with my father, brothers, and male friends? And do I deal with issues healthily?
This play is not just for entertainment, it is about how you feel, especially if you are a man.
The cast received a standing ovation. Then once again the actors ushered us all onto the stage for a dance of celebration. Afrobeats, highlife, bashment, reggae, hip-hop and jazz boomed from the speakers and the play ended in true African fashion.
Following the sell-out run at the National Theatre this summer, extra dates have now been added, and you can catch Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles from now until the 9th January.
For more info and tickets click here
Cast: Fisayo Akinade, Hammed Animashaun, Peter Bankolé, Maynard Eziashi, Simon Manyonda, Patrice Naiambana, Cyril Nri, Kwami Odoom, Sule Rimi, Abdul Salis, David Webber, and Anthony Welsh.