After Inua Ellams picked up a flyer about a pilot project to teach barbers about the basics of counselling, he started thinking about the relationships men have with their barbers – particularly Afro-Caribbean men. He then travelled across Africa exploring barber shops and recording interviews which then turned into his critically-acclaimed play Barber Shop Chronicles.
Set in six different barber shops in Uganda, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Peckham, it all takes place over a day. It’s the day of the Champions League Final and it is being watched by a multitude of men across these barber shops – which weaves the stories together.
It’s a moving story filled with wit and humour as we watch this collation of real stories come to life on stage. The group of twelve actors play over thirty-three characters – a range of different people who find the barber shop as their sacred place. It’s not just where they get their haircut, but it’s where they console in each-other and open up. Not only do they share their love for Chelsea FC, but they share their stories, and it’s compelling to watch.
It’s an open space where men are talking about their life and their feelings. With male mental health a taboo subject, it’s eye-opening to see their vulnerability portrayed on stage.
Music plays a huge part in the show. Entering the theatre the barber shop on stage comes to life. With a DJ playing music with an African influence, the cast invite the audience up on stage to sit in a barber chair, dance with them and get involved. Instantly that traditional theatre barrier is broken down and the audience automatically connect with the show. The director Bijan Sheibani has cleverly interjected this into the scenes, so the audience are acknowledged throughout the show. This forms a connection that is so precious in theatre and makes the storytelling even more worthwhile.
Between each scene the cast use music to transition us through each barber shop – this continues to lift the play with the cast’s electric energy.
Anthony Ofoegbu is sincere and kind-hearted as Emmanuel, Demmy Ladipo brings immense character and charisma and Mohammad Mansaray plays the strong Samuel with real fire and determination. The whole cast bring authenticity to the stories told in an entirely engaging way.
With stories intertwining there is certainly lots going on and many characters to explore. Through the humour, music and variety of personalities on stage, there’s a lot to take in during the 100 minute production. However, it’s the final scene that brings it all together and simply displays the purpose of the story.
It’s a thought-provoking piece of theatre that touches on mental health, masculinity, politics, family dynamics – everything that makes us human. Barber Shop Chronicles is a show about connection and conversation. It’s refreshing to see these stories being told in such a dynamic way. It’s a truly life-affirming show that will touch your heart and lift your spirits.
Barber Shop Chronicles is on at Birmingham Rep until Saturday 28th of September. Tickets and information can be found on their website.