For generations, African men have gathered in barber shops. Sometimes they have haircuts, sometimes they listen, more often than not they talk. Barber shops are confession boxes, political platforms, preacher-pulpits and football pitches... places to go for unofficial advice, and to keep in touch with the world. Barber Shop Chronicles is a hilarious and insightful new play that leaps from a Barber Shop in Peckham to Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra over the course of a single day.
When I entered the theatre, the actors were interacting with members of the audience, including myself, inviting them onstage to have their “haircut” and have a chat to the characters. They were welcoming and their characterisation was extremely detailed, shown in their tone of voice, body language and the actors knew exactly how to respond to audience members as their character.
The cast of Barber Shop Chronicles
Throughout the performance, multi-rolling was used, shown in a change of posture, voice and clothing. They use many exaggerated stereotypes, which no one could resist the urge to laugh. On stage, I felt like the actors hadn't even had a script. Every word they said felt really natural because of their well timed, accurate reactions and how each line came one after another with no unneeded pauses making everything flow together.
The set was minimal but perfect for the in-the-round staging and even with the slightest change I could tell exactly which barber shop they were in. In addition, the set changes were fast, smooth and was accompanied with cultural, harmonising a cappella, which made you want to dance. Moreover, during a scene the actors would face different directions throughout so all could see. Also, microphones weren’t used, which made facing many directions even more important, but you could clearly see them and hear what each character was saying.
Costumes were cultural and fitted each location the barber shop was in. Furthermore, it reflected their character and the class that they were in. They helped indicate, which character they were playing, adding personality and flare.
This show gets:
Overall, the performance was outstanding with power messages of race, culture, diversity and togetherness.
(Photo credit: Marc Brenner) Barber Shop Chronicles is being staged at the Royal Exchange in association with Contact Theatre Company