'Barber Shop Chronicles' comes from the pen of Inua Ellams, a playwright and internationally touring poet who was born in Nigeria. The play jumps around the world, exploring the everyday confessional booth that is the barber shop’s chair, in an anecdotal, sketch format.
We open in Lagos, spend 10 minutes looking through a window into the life of a barber shop there, then jump to another barber shop in Peckham, or Johannesburg, Kampala or Accra, then it's back to Peckham, then Johannesburg, and so on. All of this happens over a single day on the stage - rooted in time by the upcoming Champions League final between Chelsea and Barcelona.
The all-male play explores how “African men have gathered in barber shops to discuss the world”. Ellams was inspired after discovering a project to teach barbers about the basics in counselling back in 2010. He said: “I was surprised that conversations in barber shops were so intimate that someone thought that barbers should be trained in counselling, and also that they wanted the counselling project sessions to happen in the barber shop. This meant that on some level the person who was organising this thought there was something sacred about barber shops.”
Barber Shop Chronicles is an incredibly fun, energetic play, with comedy at its core; comedy born from big characters and personalities; from the cheeky, playful interactions that come out of a fresh cut, from self-aware human vanity, stubbornness, or straight from the heart.
Tied together with a booming soundtrack - including a healthy dose of Skepta - and some fantastic transition dance segments, 'Barber Shop Chronicles' is a deeply human experience; at times a critique of the way we interact, think and judge, and at others a love letter to it, brought to life by a cast oozing personality. Emmanuel Ighodaro and Demmy Ladipo's opening (top) is fantastic, the story of Anthony Ofoegbu's Emmanuel and Mohammed Mansaray's Samuel is a standout, and Demmy Ladipo's "bad boy" (above) is laugh out loud funny, but it's hard to fault any of the cast.
Sat in the barber shop chair the next day, after covering topics ranging from football to pet ownership to politics, I recommend the play to my barber, who says he’ll go along. “You’d be surprised at what people will tell you after you’ve cut their hair a few times,” he tells me.
The 'Barber Shop Chronicles' takes that truth, the intimacy of the barbershop, and its place as a sanctuary for many Africans across the world, and turns it into an in depth examination, and for the most part, a grand celebration, of human heart, spirit and community.