Genuine Comedy And Brilliantly Rich Characters: Barber Shop Chronicles Is A Masterpiece

Barber Shop Chronicles, Roundhouse, ★★★★★

Genuine Comedy And Brilliantly Rich Characters: Barber Shop Chronicles Is A Masterpiece Barber Shop Chronicles, Roundhouse, 5
Photo: Marc Brenner

Take an electric journey through the lives of men in six African cities through the eyes of their local barber — the ‘beacon’ of their community. Cutting between the (mostly) patient barbers in the various cities, we’re introduced to an assortment of interesting characters, dropping in to get their opinionated noggins trimmed during the course of one day.

Photo: Marc Brenner

From a lengthy debate on whose fault it is that a customer has an ingrowing hair, to the fact that ‘40% of white South Africans don’t think apartheid was wrong’, discussions range from the silly to the extremely serious. They’re based on truth, inspired by 60 hours of recordings taken by the director while researching around Africa. But the glue that holds it together is formed from genuine comedy and brilliantly rich characters; laughter is the main offer of this play.

Photo: Marc Brenner

The script really shines, thanks to writer Inua Ellams, with some cracking lines like ‘Do you know the biggest tribe in Nigeria? Chelsea fans.’ and ‘Your father spoke with his hands?’ ‘Yes, but it was the wrong kind of language’. The direction is also razor-sharp, with the physical reactions being as imperative to the narrative as the script, and great choreography and powerful singing helps to transport us from one city to another. The Roundhouse really suits this play, with the audience sat around the edge as if waiting for a trim ourselves.

Photo: Marc Brenner

The most surprising discovery is Demmy Lapido. With just two credits under his actor’s biography, he gives an incredible stand-out performance. During one character’s earnest explanation the history of the n-word — with the audience hanging onto his every word with baited breath — Demmy’s air-headed character interrupts with ‘Can’t you see that everyone is bored?’, collapsing the whole audience into hysterics. But the entire, and expansive, cast is fantastic — with all actors (including some familiar faces) playing multiple and varied characters, and not one dud performance. All actors throw their heart and souls into their performances, leaving us beaming from ear to ear.

Photo: Marc Brenner

It’s rare to go to a performance with such an engaged and diverse audience, and we can’t help feeling that this is what theatre was made for. It’s a masterpiece. What’s next for director Bijan Sheibani? We recommend ladies' salons.

Barber Shop Chronicles, Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8EH. Tickets from £15, until 24 August 2019.

Last Updated 25 July 2019