Bristol Old Vic

Barber Shop Chronicles 

May 2019

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Man to man barbershop

It was a heady mix which weaved in and out from boyish banter to burning contemporary issues as an audience settled to watch Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles which opened at Bristol Old Vic this week.

The blurb says ‘newsroom, political platform, local hot-spot, confession box, preacher-pulpit and football stadium - for generations, African men have gathered in barber shops to discuss the world’ and this critically acclaimed production doesn’t disappoint.

Directed by Bijan Sheibani and designed by Rae Smith, Barber Shop Chronicles is a heart-warming, hilarious and insightful new play that leaps from a barber shop in Peckham to Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos, and Accra over the course of a single day.

Nailsea People sent along Nairobi-born Samuel and his English wife Lynette to see what it was all about.

They said: “From the outset a refreshing change to see the diversity of the theatre audience.

“A 360-degree stage. The stage was set as a vibrant African barber’s shop set in London, with a DJ and music decks playing music and dancing with headphones centre stage. Barbers are already in situ inviting the audience to step up for a ‘hair cut’. The show hasn’t begun, but it has. It has already succeeded in grabbing our interest and attention as we take our seats on the balcony.

“The cast, of approximately 15 actors, each have contrasting clothing; from tropical shirts, shorts and sliders; to African material wrapped round like a skirt and business suits and tie, with corporate shoes and sunglasses.

“The barber’s shop is so much more than a haircut. It is a social gathering, a place where friends and strangers meet. The atmosphere is friendly and laid back. Everyone is welcome.”

Samuel said: “I feel home, I feel relaxed.”

They continue: “The lighting included a globe and the globe would drop and spin and light up a specific region and country, for example Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa and England to indicate the setting of the next scene.

“Each scene had a focus - relationships, age, history, culture, politics, race, love of Premiership football. These were also combined with respect and kindness. Black and white women were also discussed and compared.

“One theme highlighted that black people born in Europe were losing their culture and respect for the elders.

“Despite having opposing views, which could be expressed animatedly, perceived aggressive threats were rarely carried out, and others in the barbers shop always helped to disperse any tension.

“The funniest reoccurring theme was when the men looked in the mirror after their hair had been cut and they all self-approved by saying ‘Hey, hey’ to show their pleasure and satisfaction with their new look.”

Lynette said: “I sometimes missed the dialogue – some actors were heavily accented and with the 360 degree stage I missed the punchline but Samuel did not.”

They concluded: “The production gave a mainstream audience the opportunity to consider life from a black perspective. In doing so, they provided a non-threatening and welcoming environment that allowed for an open dialogue. In turn it is hope that this will help to break down the stereotypes by creating a better understanding.

“Music and movement featuring Afrobeats, grime, hip-hop and traditional melodies and chair-spinning and cape-flipping all added to the enjoyment.

“There were some amazing performances by the actors, some hilarious comedic moments and everyone involved deserves to take a very big bow.”

Starring Maynard Eziashi, Mohammed Mansaray, Anthony Ofoegbu, Jo Servi and David Webber they were joined on stage by Michael Balogun, Tobi Bamtefa, Adé Dee Haastrup, Emmanuel Ighodaro, Demmy Ladipo, Rudolphe Mdlongwa, and Elander Moore.

Barber Shop Chronicles is a Fuel, National Theatre and Leeds Playhouse co-production and plays until Saturday, May 18.

For further information and to book online tickets from £11.50 click HERE.

The play runs for two hours with no interval. Recommended age is 14+ as there is some strong language and sexual content.

WORDS: Lynette and Samuel

PHOTOS: Mark Brenner

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