Writer: Inua Ellams
Director: Bijan Sheibani
Peckham, London. Lagos, Nigeria. Kampala, Uganda. Johannesburg, South Africa. Accra, Ghana, Harare, Zimbabwe.
Across countries and continents, Barbershop Chronicles are the intimate, interconnected stories between men, and each of them sharing their fears, their joys and their hopes- all in barbershops in the space of a day- which happens to the Champions League Final between Chelsea and Barcelona. The barbershop becomes a space where men are allowed to express their emotions to one another, and share jokes.
The performance in itself is full of what the French would say “joi de vivre”, with plenty of singing, chanting, dancing, and in-narrative laughing. The mood is, on overall happy and optimistic, which is a refreshing change from all that navel-gazing, inward looking and generally contemplative, yet shallow. The delivery of the lines and the language has a rhythmic, poetic texture to it, as befits the work of a poet (to be fair, this is the first time I've experienced the works of Mr. Ellams so bear with me here.) and it feels refined, and is a joy to watch just on its own literary merits.
Barbershop Chronicles is strong and heavy-hitting on the social commentary, referencing colonialization, politics of Africa, and current race relations. Whatever your feelings on the matter, the commentary is on-point but never too heavy handed. Another theme that runs through is manhood and masculinity, and the characters navigate through these rough and heady waters- and the addition of references to the round ball game gives the performance a rather universal feel (though to be fair, I was also the only one in the room to understand them.) to proceedings.
As for the presentation, the scenery is colourful, doing its best to depict so many different locations, and the venue itself is spacious and elegant. Before the beginning of the play, the actors would dance, play and chatter to a score whilst inviting members of the audience to have pretend haircuts with them, which is a nice and friendly touch.
Barbershop Chronicles is a thoughtful and intimate piece of work and is definitely worth watching.
Barbershop Chronicles runs until the 18th of February.