To stage a play in six varying locations, between African nations and the UK with a single connecting thread that is the space of a local barbershop seems like a huge feat for any show, in any context - yet it is one that writer Inua Ellams does effortlessly.
At its heart, the play is one that is bigger then what it immediately presents itself as. As a black woman who does their own hair, I have to admit that I am a stranger to barber shops but not necessarily what that experience is amongst the young black men that I grew up around. So to be invited on stage before the show to sit in the barber chair, speak to Mo (who plays Samuel) as he acted out giving me a quick trim was a fresh and enticing way to set up the performance we were about to see.
The actors flowed in to their different characters with as much ease as they transitioned into completely different time zones within the play. The characters were vibrant, fully realised and this was seen in the way that each actor played them. Their naturalness in their roles made it east for the audience to believe how a joke at the beginning of a conversation (like the playful disrespect a barber feels knowing that his client had gone to another barber instead of him) could turn into something a lot more serious moments later, delving into unexpected realms for a play which presents itself more as a comedy. With all of this happening in the the humble process of getting a 5-10 minute haircut.
Ellams and the cast have invited us into a world which some of us may have only heard of and some would never personally experience. Through his ability to beautifully tell this story with an infectious energy and humorous flair, it is definitely a play worth seeing. It has the potential to educate people on the meaning of allowing black men, young and old just to be black men in a space with others like them, where there is no judgement and a freedom to be themselves outside of the harsh pressures and stereotypes that are placed on them in the world today. Yet, at the same time being relatable, showing that the basic human fundamentals of life are still discussed and felt (feeling the absence of loved ones or even sharing a joke that would still be the same, funny joke no matter how it is told or by whom) when a group people get together, outwith race and/or gender. For those who know of this experience, it affirms the sense of community that people who have lived in those experiences giving a renewed sense of appreciation for these places and their value. For me personally, with a barber shop in Peckham as the hub of interconnectedness for the narrative, it reminded me of home and the young black men that I grew up with who told me that they were off to the barbershop after college, only to come out two or three hours later...I guess after seeing this play, I find it funny to now know why.
The Barber Shop Chronicles runs at the Lyceum Theatre until 8 November 2019.