‘Barber Shop Chronicles’ is the show we need right now—it pulls you in so sharply and you care so much about the characters you can completely forget about the mundane world around you.
This is a joyous show—dazzling, life-affirming and witty.
And it has two especially wonderful things going for it—it’s laugh-out-loud funny at many, many moments, and it has the Best. Scene. Changes. Ever. They alone are worth the price of admission.
This gift from the National Theatre and Leeds Playhouse in England is available online on YouTube through next Thursday. This is an immersive show in the sense that these characters are so real that you identify with their humanity, no matter the gender, race, religion, or any other ‘ism’ that tends to separate people. Author Inua Ellams has written a play about the African diaspora in the United Kingdom but it weaves a tapestry about matters that touch everyone—masculinity, sexuality, fatherhood, honesty, honor, forgiveness, and love. You just have to be human to embrace this work.
It is specific to the black experience in several African countries from Nigeria to South Africa and in the United Kingdom. Set in black barber shops in six cities on one day, an important game between Chelsea and Barcelona plays in all six barber shops, whether on a television screen or a radio. In that respect, it is intriguing to hear divergent opinions on Nelson and Winnie Mandela, anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda and other places, views on women, views on raising children in a “traditional” way or a gentler way, views on Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Jonathan Goodluck of Nigeria, among others.
At the heart of the play are the relationships among the men—the barbers, their customers, their larger communities. And it leaves the theatre-goer with a feeling of hope.
The large ensemble cast is anchored by Fisayo Akinade as Samuel/Wallace/Timothy. He is most ably joined by Hammed Animashaun as Mohammed/Tinashe/Kwabena/Brian; Peter Bankolé as Fabrice/Olawale; Maynard Eziashi as Musa/Andile/Mensah; Simon Manyonda as Tanaka/Fiifi; Patrice Naiambana as Tokunbo/Paul/Simphiwe; Cyril Nri as Emmanuel; Kwami Odoom as Ethan; Sule Rimi as Elnathan/Benjamin/Dwain; Abdul Salis as Kwame/Simon/Wole; David Webber as Abram/Ohene/Sizwe; and Anthony Welsh as Winston/Shoni. This is a dream cast, seamlessly inhabiting different characters and countries.
This is a joyous show—dazzling, life-affirming and witty. Mr. Ellams is a poet as well as a playwright, and the language and cadences leave you breathless.
Now, about those scene changes. They are set to a mélange of African and black music from around the world, and each is a mini-dance. They are simply delightful and leave you wanting more—which we get at the end. It’s a scrumptious way to change the scenes.
This filmed show is an enhanced archive recording from January 2018 and features the original cast.
Running Time: One hour 50 minutes with no intermission.
For More Information: ‘Barber Shop Chronicles? runs through Thursday, May 21, leedsplayhouse. — https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/barber-shop-chronicles-3/ and YouTube.