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Barbershop Chronicles – Review Barbershop Chronicles – Review
Barbershop Chronicles – Review

Set in capital cities of five African nations and London, the play reveals some of the hot topics Black men discuss when unfettered by political correctness or other societal restrictions. Flitting from country to country we are treated the inner thoughts of barbers and their customers.


So in one humorous yet insightful scene we come to understand how Black men really perceive white women as well as their fractious relationships with their Black women. In another, we get to understand the divisive effect Robert Mugabe has on his people, being viewed both as a saint and sinner in equal measures.

In the shanty towns of Johannesburg we witness a very heated and passionate discussion on the aftermath of Apartheid, the Truth and Reconciliation commission and whether Nelson Mandela was truly worthy of his adulation or was Winnie Mandela robbed of her glory. There were also so truly uncomfortable and jarring moments such as when the conversations veered towards discussion of the N-word and Black homosexuality.


Cementing all of these conversations was the London barbershop scenes which revolved around the violent conflict of a young barber admirably played by Fisayo Akinade and an older wiser barber Cryril Nri, the former convinced that the latter had cheated out him out of inheriting the shop in which he worked.


Overall the play was a joy to watch if the standing ovation of the audience was anything to go by. Through scenes of laughter, sadness and conflict it is clear that playwright and poet Inua Ellams (The 14th Tale, ‘Black T-Shirt Collection) wants us to understand the depth and complexity that makes the Black male mind. Especially around the issues of masculinity and sexuality.


So much so, that in a recent lecture, he claims that “society is seeing a paradigm shift in the perception of black masculinity and that if not openly discussed we risk seeing a dramatic rise in depression amongst black men.”

Despite these assertions and much as the play tries, the audience I feel is not left with any greater insight into the mind of Black men at its end. This may have been because it tries to cover too much ground that issues which would have potentially revealed the Black male inner sentiments and feelings are only given scant coverage before being swiftly moved on.


One felt that the writer was bursting with views on a huge number of topics and had to let all coming bursting out. Fewer scenes and a deeper exploration of central themes such as the effects of slavery on the Black pysche, Black male-female relationships, masculinity etc would have increased the probability of the writer achieving his aims.


Notwithstanding, this is a great production with its interactive setting, humour, infectious Afrobeat music and creative audience participations, you’re unlikely to see a better current Black production. So I suggest you head off to the National Theatre and book your seat and wait your turn for a night of fun, laugher and thought provoking theatre.


PS – Don’t sit too near the front though as you might come away with less hair than you entered with.


Barbershop Chronicles, June 2017 – Jan 2018, National Theatre. For more info click here.

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