The Barber Shop Chronicles is a play by Nigerian poet and playwright Inua Ellams, set in six barber shops in six cities, offering a glimpse into the lives of the people who work in and frequent them - and, in the process, giving us a unique study of black masculinity.
The Roundhouse is set out, appropriately, theatre-in-the-round style with the audience surrounding the stage, making us feel like we are in the barbershop too, perhaps waiting for a haircut or just stopping by to listen in on the conversation. Everything is discussed, from football to women to fatherhood to the history of n-word, all delivered so naturally that the audience becomes part of the conversation too - it's not uncommon to see people in the crowd nodding or saying "that's right" after hearing an opinion that resonated with them. Perhaps most importantly, the play depicts its all-black, all-male cast as just a group of regular men with regular problems and worries, contrary to how black men are often portrayed in the media.
The dramatic core of the show is provided by the story of Samuel, a young barber who works in a shop formerly owned by his father but now run by his father's best friend Emmanuel. Samuel resents Emmanuel for the circumstances leading to his father's incarceration, and the play navigates how their relationship is affected when the tension finally reaches boiling point. The performances by Mohammed Mansaray (as Samuel) and Anthony Ofuegbu (as Emmanuel) are exceptional, and their final scene together is sure to have even the most cynical viewer in tears.
This isn't to sell short the efforts of the rest of the excellent cast, who perfectly navigate the frequent shifts between hilarity and tragedy; special mention must go to the hilarious Demmy Lapido, who has a true gift for comedy.
The Barber Shop Chronicles is a warm, skillfully directed play that raises many issues related to masculinity that simply are not discussed enough. Hopefully, this play will serve as a conversation starter for everyone who sees it.
KORI Youth Charity