This is final theatre review of the year oh my gosh. So last Saturday I went to Barber Shop Chronicles at the National Theatre and it is BEST piece of work I’ve seen this year. Go and I see this play. British Nigerian writer Inua Ellams, has created a wonderfully life affirming piece of work.
In a nutshell the play is set in a barber shop in Peckham, London (UK), Accra (Ghana), Lagos (Nigeria), Johannesburg (South Africa), Harare (Zaire) and Kampala (Uganda). The all male cast discuss racism, fatherhood, black culture, poverty, immigration and belonging, Black history and the legacy of colonialism in 1hr 30mins or so. Gripping stuff; and it is managed with great ease.
Self-reflection, the sharing of memories, balanced discussion and good African humour is used the tackle the issues and really personalise these them. The barber shop setting allows the audience to these men at their most comfortable and open. We see men, flesh and blood complicated black men who trying to process the effects of these issues on their lives. Ellams also reminds us that we can’t escape the legacy aspect of these problems and the next generations will also suffer too.
A lot of frailty and compassion is added to these men and finally we see a real WHOLE black men that are full of emotion. It is so important to see this because portrayal of black men in film, Tv and music is very one dimensional. As each character shares their life and world to the audience everyone is now aware that black men have always been more and far different from the stereotypes and prejudices, but also deal with a lot more.
The use of dance and music is amazing in this production. It used to welcome and relax the audience in the beginning, it helps the viewer transition from city to city as well as extend the mood of a couple of scenes; so the audience can digest the story told to them. I learnt so much about stagecraft and it definitely encouraged me to think out of box in my own writing.
The all male ensemble cast is outstanding. Some of the actors are playing two characters and every character was fleshed out and authentic. The Barber shop Chronicles is essentially a dramedy. The scenes set in Johannesburg were beautiful acted and so full of pain, anger and regret but it was balanced with the scene set in Lagos and in UK that were so so funny. The use of contrast in the writing and finely balanced direction from Bijan Sheibani allows each reflection, memory and discussion to shine and make the play easy to watch for everyone.
The Barbershop Chronicles is on now until 9th January 2018 at the Dorfman Theatre at The Royal National Theatre in London.