★★★ | Barber Shop Chronicles
Masculinity and culture come sharply under the spotlight in Barber Shop Chronicles, as men go to their barbers to chat, seek advice, bare their soul or just pass the time of day in the company of friends. Presented as a series of snapshots, the play travels between six locations around the world – London, Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra – to share conversations between African men and their barbers covering everything from history to homosexuality, from language to love and from family to fatherhood, all of which are tied together by one televised football match and one terrible joke.
Set on a minimal stage, and featuring interludes filled with a mixture of traditional African music, grime and hip hop, the scenes are tied together by cape swishing, chair twirling choreographed movement; whilst the show is funny, poignant and political in equal measure, delving into the ordinary conversations held by men in barber shops every day in the six different African nations and holding them up as a mirror to the audience.
Despite a slightly disjointed start, the show soon hits its stride with a range of characters – the businessman, the torn apart family, the local drunk, the ambitious youngster – all seemingly unconnected, but with an underlying association between them across the globe. The ensemble cast, many of whom play multiple roles; draw in the crowd with a resonating warmth and humour, and bring into focus the importance of male bonding, community and communication.
Barber Shop Chronicles is a comedy drama which is crammed with anecdotes, arguments and regrets, which come together to provide a thought-provoking, life-affirming piece of theatre which both celebrates and challenges African masculinity.