REVIEW: NT @ home – Barber Shop Chronicles

Brian Butler May 17, 2020

The barber shop is the place grown men go to hide from their wives, to gossip, to talk football, sex and other subjects sworn to secrecy.

Such is its potency that Inua Ellams has got a whole , fast-paced, heart-warming and thoughtful play out of the idea.

So, in the tightly-packed NT Studio theatre , we are at once waiting for a haircut in Peckham, Kampala, Harare, Jo’burg, and Accra .

And all the shops share one thing – a passion for the radio broadcast of a cup final between Chelsea and Barcelona , to which they listen intently throughout the 24-hour course of the action.

The high-paced, beautifully choreographed direction of Bijan Sheibani allows the ensemble to present a magic array of comic and serious characters – both customers and cutters.

And the whole thing is enthralling – even when dealing with the darkest of subjects- child abuse, racism, homophobia and the inevitable political corruption.

In the theatre there are signposts to where we are – clocks show the time, shop signs give a clue and a revolving map of thr world helps us out. Watching  at home , we’re helped by the dancing and song which shouts out the name of each foreign location  at least the first time anyway. You have to keep up; the action moves swiftly and often as we get tangled up in these black male stories of hope, fears, loves and hatred.

One cutter recalls his dad saying “ I’m not your friend, I’m your father “ and there’s a deep tap into the very different African cultures that’s both informative and entertaining.

There’s even a controversial discussion of the N word and why it might be ok for a black man to say it , but not a white one.

In the end personal and professional disputes are set aside and we go home better for having seen this fascinating insight into another world.

You can see Barber Shop Chronicles on the NT@home YouTube channel until Thursday 21 May.

Please make a donation to either the NT or its 2 collaborators on the production, Fuel, and Leeds Playhouse .