Even from the moment we step into the auditorium, we know we are in for such a fun and energetic night as the cast of Inua Ellams' vibrant play Barber Shop Chronicles are grabbing up people from their seats to join them up on stage to dance with them and pose in their barbers chairs. From then on we whizz through an uplifting set of stories set in the urban barber shops of London and parts of Africa to learn more in depth about the people who own them and the culture these men reside in.
Following sell-out seasons at the National Theatre, the Roundhouse and a world tour, this production is hilarious, touching and informative without being too didactic which not only comes from the poetic and passionate dialouge from Ellams, but Bijan Sheibani's production is so intricately detailed that it makes the eveing a delight to watch. The design by Rae Smith takes the tacky worldwide barber shop signs as the frame for the story which is told simply, but craftly on a floor of various barber shop chairs that are constantly on the move and swung about during the nightclub-like scene changes. Speaking of which, it is an excellent choice of familiar club tunes like going to Snobs or Walkabout on a Saturday night and African chants amd songs sung by the company that keep the piece at speed.
This cast of eleven men carry the evening fron start to finish without letting their energy drop and adding such life and soul to each of the various characters they play. But ultimately we gain a wide scope of British-African culture and their stories concerning race, politics, opportunity, masculinity, parenthood and relationships, stringed together by a common love of football. Yes, at times it may feel like a lot to take in and difficult to keep up with but nonetheless the pace and humour of it all keeps us head-bopping like we all just want to get up and dance and laugh.
It is a unique piece of theatre that is manifested by the idea of barber shops being a safe haven for conversation and friendly banter between men, where everyone respects each other. But this play truly does have something for everyone of all backgrounds to celebrate in our society today.
Barber Shop Chronicles runs at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 28th September.
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