REVIEW: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre at Home

This is a gloriously funny and heartfelt play that offers a fascinating insight into how the barbers is a place of vital importance for African men.

Spanning from barber shops in Peckham to Johannesburg and places in between, Inua Ellams has created an immensely clever and thought provoking play that examines the lives of African men in a non-conventional way.

Through Bijan Sheibani’s smooth and wonderfully choreographed production, we hear so many different stories and opinions about a variety of subjects from football, language and politics all the way through to racism and prejudice.

It is not an easy thing to cover such a diverse range of subjects in one play, but Ellams has carefully and seamlessly put together stories that work together well to ensure that each topic is effectively covered. The play moves from light hearted banter to passion and anger as in particular racism becomes a topic of conversation as well as trying to uphold heritage and culture.

There is a lovely energy and pace that runs right through the production, effortlessly sweeping the audience into the barber shops in London, Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra to offer insight into the bond and companionship that exists when visiting. It is a very grounded piece, with the reactions of characters such as Samuel’s defensiveness of his father until the moment he discovers what his father is really like or when characters get into heated debates about racism and the way in which language is used. There is great passion and drive throughout.

But it is not just the stories and characters that make this for a lively production. I also enjoyed the way in which Michael Henry’s musical direction blended traditional music performed by the cast with Western hip hop style music to great effect in between scenes, merging nicely with Aline David’s movement direction as the scene changes happen so smoothly. Meanwhile,the cast offer naturally warm and engaging performances that offer depth and insight into their characters that really bring their stories to life.

Overall, Barber Shop Chronicles is a warm and vibrant play filled with a wonderful variety of characters and stories that is compelling to watch from start to finish.

By Emma Clarendon

Barber Shop Chronicles is available to watch for free as part of the National Theatre at Home series until the 21st May.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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