The Barber Shop Chronicles at the National Theatre is an utter gem of a play. Set in seven different barbershops around the world, the play interweaves different views and experiences and presents them in a powerful and punchy piece of theatre. Never preachy, the show delves into different aspects of what it is to be a black man living in today’s world, touching on mental heath, father / son relationships, contemporary relationships, political ideology, language and identity.
Everyone in the cast is just phenomenal. They each play different characters and all are fully realised. Before a word is uttered Patrice Naiambana has the audience in stitches with some fabulous physical comedy and throughout the play the actors work with and use the audiences reactions to brilliant effect.
On paper, the play seems overly ambitious, the amount of locations visited, the numerous themes explored, but in actuality it is deliciously intimate and beautifully realised. All stories are subtly interlocked through familial ties and the enjoyment of the same Chelsea v Barcelona football match. The intimacy is aided by the ‘in the round’ setting. The set sees all of the stage furniture on stage at once, when the audience enters some are invited to sit down for a ‘haircut’ in an atmosphere of pure celebration. Each barbershop we visit through the piece is clearly defined and through an energetic transition of song and dance, reconfigured. The set and props are expertly choreographed (by Aline David) to be set up for each shop so there is no doubt when we are in ‘The Three Kings’ in Peckham, or ‘Kowope’ in Lagos.
The play feels organic, as if some of the experiences we lay witness to are actually drawn from personal experience, a testament to the writing and the translation by the actors. It’s a play full of humour and heart, writer Inua Ellams and director Bijan Sheibani have weaved together a wonderful celebratory tale and the kicker at the end is just heartbreaking. I highly recommend experiencing it before it closes.
Reviewed by Byron Butler
The Barber Shop Chronicles plays at the National Theatre until 8 July 2017