Barber Shop Chronicles

The play starts at 7.30. The fun starts half an hour before. The exuberant cast of Barber Shop Chronicles hosts a stomping prequel where music is played, dances are danced and audience members leap onstage to enjoy a “haircut” in the barber’s chair.

This is a National Theatre, Leeds Playhouse and Fuel co-production, and high octane fuel certainly drives the performance.

The brilliant stage set by Rae Smith is completely evocative of an African street scene, with looping tangled electrical wires overhanging jaunty shop fronts boasting “academic” haircuts and bright colourful posters.

The premise of this play is based on a universal truth, that hairdressers are the confessors of the scissors, the repository of secrets. Inua Ellams, the writer, has taken the idea that conversations overheard in the barber’s chair are often the most revealing that those buttoned up creatures men are likely to have.

Switching from an African barber’s in Peckham to ones in Kampala, Johannesburg, Accra, Harare and Lagos, on the day that Chelsea plays Barcelona at football, the match is referred to in all these places as a unifying factor to the experiences and concerns on that day.

The topics covered are diverse – politics, family, quarrels, heartbreak. Some definitely non PC opinions are expressed – as they would be between men in a safe place. Our eyes are opened from our own narrow view as to how children are raised, how great men can be controversially regarded, how masculinity is experienced.

The hanging globe above the set is a clever way to keep us on track. When the scene shifts the country on the globe lights up, a subtle geography test for us.

It’s fast, it’s challenging, it’s fantastic. At times I could have used surtitles to follow the razor sharp dialogue in detail, but the overall sense is never lost. These are true Tales from the Cities, accurate, raw and life-affirming. Remember to go early.

Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh until November 9th.


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