From before the play began the actors were dancing and singing, engaging with the audience and being engaging themselves. It felt like you were walking into a party and were being made to feel very welcome. The sound-system, the music and dancing, the call-outs to members of the audience were a fantastic way to begin the show.
The barber shops of the title are set in Lagos, Johannesburg, Harare, Accra, Kampala and south London. In each of these shops the audience is privileged to enter the world the barbers and customers inhabit and in each explore what it means to be an African male. Conversational subjects include the rights and wrongs of beating children, the origins of the “N” word, father-son relationships, the way the world sees Mugabe and Mandela and the often conflicting views of the barber shop attendees. Despite the big topics, humour was always at hand and a lot of the jokes were laugh-out-loud funny and appeared to resonate with many audience members.
Each change of scene brought us a new barber shop location and the music and dance as the set was whirled around was mesmerising and a clever way to achieve the transition. The chairs were swirled, capes were twirled and generators and barber shop props were swooshed out of and into place. A huge wire globe suspended above the stage lit up at points in the performance to great effect and the signs around the stages advertising the various shops were colourful and authentic, glowing to let you know which barber shop we were now visiting.
The actors played various characters in a marvellous manner and were all well-rounded and engaging interpretations.
There was much soul-searching throughout the play and there were many common threads running from one shop to the next, helping to maintain a sense of connectivity across the locations. A joke about a fly in a drink is picked up in several of the shops and does not get tired with each telling, it’s rather more like an in-joke that the audience has been let in upon.
Reflecting real life the play depicts serious issues; a boy looking for his absent father, a father across the globe lamenting the lack of his (are they the same father and son who have lost each other?); one young man suspects his father to be the victim of a barber shop takeover only to discover he has been protected from an unpalatable truth – but also so much humour and shared experiences such as the much anticipated Chelsea vs Barcelona game (in all of the shops across the globe they all view Chelsea as “their” team). The characters were each well-drawn and their stories and opinions were fascinating to hear.
The play ended leaving the audience feeling hopeful for future generations as a young fatherless and lonely teenager is welcomed to spend more time in the south London barber shop absorbing the political conversation, joke-telling and story-sharing. A thoroughly engaging play – I would highly recommend a visit.
Barber Shop Chronicles continues at West Yorkshire Playhouse until Saturday 29 July 2017. Find out more here: www.wyp.org.uk/events/barber-shop-chronicles
This post was written by Hazel Millichamp using our Create an article for South Leeds Life page.