REVIEW: Barber Shop Chronicles at Sheffield Crucible until Saturday

Poet and graphic artist Ellams has created a highly-acclaimed African world set in barbershops from Lagos to London on a single day, writes critic Phil Turner.
The cast of Barber Shop ChroniclesThe cast of Barber Shop Chronicles
The cast of Barber Shop Chronicles

"WE’RE here because you were there.” 

The famous aphorism could be a line from Inua Ellams’ brilliant play about race, class, migration and colonialism.

Poet and graphic artist Ellams has created a highly-acclaimed African world set in barbershops from Lagos to London on a single day.

Common threads link numerous stories and arguments in an all-male forum following characters in other barbers as the fast-paced action switches to Johannesburg, Harare, Accra and Kampala. Politics, feuds, sexual encounters, a discussion on language and culture, absent fathers, religion, attacking bigotry against gay men and football all explore what it is to be an African man in a changing world.

The main plot is about a father and son in a south London barbers's called The Three Kings, but it is beautifully bound together by the clever use of linked fathers and sons, a joke about a fly in a drink and all eyes and ears on the big football match:  Chelsea and Barcelona. 

The dialogue is as sharp as the hair cuts with a superb ensemble cast bringing the banter and cross-talk compellingly to life as we see a young man rushing for a job interview for an aerodynamic onceover, while elsewhere Nelson Mandela's legacy is taken down from its pedestal. Robert Mugabe is defended and Nigerian "pidgin" is closely examined, along with the racism involved in the use of the n-word and the Afrikaan word kaffir. And there's also a barber known as Manna because his dandruff falls on clients!

Director Bijan Sheibani's exhilarating production has chairs on casters, flapping barber's capes and a wonderful sound track beneath authentic advertising posters. A large wire globe strikingly designed by Rae Smith lights up to indicate which city we are in, accompanied by vocals from the actors.

The joyous mood is struck before it starts with audience members volunteering to have pretend hair cuts before dancing on stage.

All credit to the actors - many playing several roles - Tobi Bamtefa, Maynard Eziashi, Michael Balogun, Ade Dee Haastrup, Emmanuel Ighodaro, Demmy Ladipo, Mohammed Mansaray, Rudolphe Mdlongwa, Elander Moore, Anthony Ofoegbu, David Webber and Jo Servi.

A mainly young and diverse audience delighted in a bold. life-affirming and insightful night in the theatre. 


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