Where do men go to gossip, bare their soul, seek advice and joke around? Amid the sound of clippers and snips, the barber shop buzzes with conversation.
In a new play at the National's Dorfman Theatre by poet/playwright Inua Ellams we journey from Peckham to Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra to hear the chronicles of conversations.
It's an exhilarating watch, pulsing with hip-hop, flitting from barber shop to barber shop and capturing the cadences and cultures from different African nations across different generations. We see men young desperate to get a hair cut before a job interview, old men mourning their motherland, fathers missing sons and sons reconsidering role models.
Ellams was inspired by a real initiative to counter high suicide rates among black men by giving barbers basic training in counselling. Though the project didn't get funding, he went out to speak candidly to men in barbershops across six different cities before drawing together The Barber Shop Chronicles.
You can feel authenticity pulse through the play as different characters share real views and experiences. As such there is nothing preachy or patronising about the discussions. There's a naturalism to the shifts from girlfriend troubles and football finals to racial politics and father figures.
But this is more than pure reportage; there's an artful structure and satisfyingly interwoven narrative drawing these disparate barbers together. Having already made his name at the National Theatre with The 14th Tale and Black T-shirt Collection, Inua Ellams is just as well known as a performance poet (check out Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All-Stars on Youtube) and there's a light lyricism to the dialogue.
It's special to find a play this entertaining that cuts through vital issues with such eloquence and emotional clout. This rarity is reflected in the audience; the crowds coming out of the theatre are a cross-section of ages and races, all of them utterly enthused.
|What||Another chance to see Barber Shop Chronicles|
|Where||Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8EH | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Chalk Farm (underground)|
18 Jul 19 – 24 Aug 19, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
|Website||Click here to book now|