Barber Shop Chronicles by Inua Ellams – review
Roundhouse

Words by: Christina McDougall | Published: Thursday, August 1, 2019 9:35 PM


If you have ever been to a barber shop, then you will know how much energy pumps through each person's veins as they enter the shop. From shape ups, to fades, trims to braids; you are guaranteed to come out looking clean. But the barber shop is more than a place of physical transformation. It readjusts your thought patterns, provokes you to have opinions on politics and allows you to open up in a safe space when the rest of the world is trying to shut you up.


It is a great, feel-good play that had me laughing and crying. The writing is excellent and the performances are heartfelt and captivating.

Although, I have no need to be in a barber shop I have sat in many and have walked out learning something new every time. Barber shops are rich with culture; boys and men can voice their opinions together and no one is judged. I have watched grown men cry as they confide in their barber. Loyalty runs deep as children grow to men, refusing to change the barber who gave them their first trim. I’ve seen women call out their cheating men, idle boys watching the news and hardworking men sweep floors. DVD’s and hard food sold by the hour whilst every guy falls off their seat when a woman walks past. I’ve sat in silence and spoken out loud depending on how the conversations go, but no matter what I always feel a sense of happiness to see so many great black men in such a small space looking after themselves physically and mentally.


Writer Inua Ellams wrote Barber Shop Chronicles after his friend conducted research into how barbers could be used to help with mental illness within the black community, identifying that barbers take on a similar role to therapists.


According to mentalhealth.org, BAME groups are less likely to receive mental health treatment (7%) compared to their white British counterparts (13.3%), with those from Black Minority groups faring the worse (6.2%). With such a small percentage of black people seeking professional help, barbers are more important than ever as a source of advice and support. These men become second fathers in the community by providing an environment where people can discuss their problems and receive non-judgemental advice and support from others.


Barber Shop Chronicles showcases how impactful this dynamic is through the various tales it weaves. We see this when we watch a young boy asking his barber what it takes to be a strong black man - an answer that many shy from; the truth is all black men are strong – it was built in our blood.


Set in the round, this play manages to capture the magic and community that is felt in a barber shop. The play simply, yet effectively transports us from London to a number of countries across Africa within minutes. Although these countries are miles apart, they are all connected to each other through intricate links between each of the character’s and countries. Seven degrees of separation allows this play to all come together smoothly as we watch relationships unfold and unite.


You’ll walk away learning something new, including a depth of knowledge and appreciation for the humble barber shops that are located within our communities.

There are so many stories that make this play wonderful and a joy to watch. From the man who doesn’t know what racial preferences he has in women, to the young boy trying to find his dad – Barber Shop Chronicles manages to effortlessly cover a wide range of themes that affect men’s lives. I found no fault in this flawless play - which is unusual for me! I enjoyed every moment of it and can see why it has been touring around the world for so long. It is a great, feel-good play that had me laughing and crying. The writing is excellent and the performances are heartfelt and captivating. Every character was believable and transformed into different characters seamlessly.


My advice is to drop whatever you are doing and watch this play. No matter what your race, gender or background – Barber Shop Chronicles has something that everyone can relate to. And like a trip to any real barber shop, you’ll walk away learning something new, including a depth of knowledge and appreciation for the humble barber shops that are located within our communities.



NEED TO KNOW: Barber Shop Chronicles is the Roundhouse until 24 August 2019 | book tickets | read interview with Barber Shop Chronicles’ Maynard Eziashi



Birmingham Repertory Theatre
September 26th -28th 2019
https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/


Oxford Playhouse
October 9th – 12th 2019
www.oxfordplayhouse.com


Eden Court, Inverness
October 16th – 19th 2019
https://eden-court.co.uk/


Edinburgh Lyceum
October 23rd – 9th November 2019
https://lyceum.org.uk/


Nuffield Southampton Theatres
November 13th – 16th 2019
www.nstheatres.co.uk


Leeds Playhouse 
November 20th – 23rd 2019
https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/



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