National Theatre at Home, Global

15/05/2020 - 22/05/2020

COVID-19 Level 2 Festival

Production Details

One day. Six cities. A thousand stories.

Following two sell-out runs at the National Theatre, a world tour, and a hugely successful summer residency at London’s Roundhouse, Inua Ellams’ acclaimed Barber Shop Chronicles is now available to watch through National Theatre at Home.

Newsroom, political platform, local hotspot, confession box, preacher-pulpit and football stadium. For generations, African men have gathered in barber shops to discuss the world. These are places where the banter can be barbed and the truth is always telling.

Directed by Olivier award-winning director Bijan Sheibani, Barber Shop Chronicles is a heart-warming, hilarious and insightful new play that leaps from a barber shop in Peckham to Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra over the course of a single day.

This enhanced archive recording was captured by the National Theatre in January 2018 and features the original cast. From 7pm 14 May until 21 May
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes, no interval.

Free on the National Theatre’s YouTube channel
Watch on YouTube, from 7pm on 14 May (UK time)

Our streaming performance of Barber Shop Chronicles is on from:
14 May at 7pm UK time.
15 May at 6am NZ time
It will be available until
7pm on Thursday 21 May (UK) / 6am Friday 22 May (NZ)
but to ensure you see it all you’ll need to start watching by
5pm UK time on 21 May / 4am 22 May (NZ).

We’re all about experiencing theatre together.

At a time when many theatre fans around the world aren’t able to visit National Theatre Live venues or local theatres, we’re excited to bring you National Theatre at Home.

You will be able to watch some of the best British theatre from the comfort of your living room, via YouTube for free, with each title available for one week.

Thank you to all the amazing artists who have allowed us to share Barber Shop Chronicles in this way, during a time when many theatre fans aren’t able to visit their local theatre.

Audio described notes for Barber Shop Chronicles 
Audio Described background to the play 1 min 25 secs (MP3 3.26MB) 
Audio Described Notes of the set, characters and costumes 12 mins 39 secs (MP3 28.9MB)

Photograph by Dean Chalkley
Opening Dorfman Theatre, 20 November 2017

Length Approx. 1 hours 45 minutes, with no interval.

Setting Barber shops in Lagos, Nigeria; Peckham, London; Accra, Ghana; Kampala, Uganda; Johannesburg, South Africa; and Harare, Zimbabwe.

A National Theatre, Fuel and Leeds Playhouse co-production
Co-commissioned by Fuel and the National Theatre.
Development funded by Arts Council England with the support of Fuel, National Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, The Binks Trust, British Council ZA, Òran Mór and A Play, a Pie and a Pint.

Download the Cast List

Download the Resource Pack

Joyous. Brilliantly acted. Life-affirming. – Independent 
Rich and exhilarating. A fascinating peek into the barber shop. – The Stage
Throbs with energy and heat. Full of sadness and great joy. – Daily Telegraph
This wonderful new play is a revelation. – The Times
Exuberant. Invigorating. First-rate acting. A debating chamber where you shed your locks but regain your identity. – Guardian
Funny, fast, thoughtful, moving. An absolute cracker. – Financial Times
Vivid and energetic. Take a seat at a revolutionary barber’s shop. – Evening Standard
Warmth, wisdom and global reach. – Sunday Times
Remarkable. Terrific. A cut above the rest. – Observer
Sharp-edged. Hugely fun. – Time Out
Energetic. Rousing. Authentic. – Afridiziak

Cast in alphabetical order
Samuel:  Fisayo Akinade
Wallace / Timothy / Mohammed / Tinashe:  Hammed Animashaun
Kwabena / Brian / Fabrice / Olawale:  Peter Bankolé
Musa / Andile / Mensah:  Maynard Eziashi
Tanaka / Fiifi:  Simon Manyonda
Tokunbo / Paul / Simphiwe:  Patrice Naiambana
Emmanuel:  Cyril Nri
Ethan:  Kwami Odoom
Elnathan / Benjamin / Dwain:  Sule Rimi
Kwame / Simon / Wole:  Abdul Salis
Abram / Ohene / Sizwe:  David Webber
Winston / Shoni:  Anthony Welsh

Director:  Bijan Sheibani
Designer:  Rae Smith
Lighting Designer:  Jack Knowles
Movement Director:  Aline David
Sound Designer:  Gareth Fry
Music Director:  Michael Henry
Fight Director:  Kev McCurdy
Staff Director:  Stella Odunlami
Barber Consultant:  Peter Atakpo
Company Voice Work:  Charmian Hoare
Dialect Coach:  Hazel Holder

Project Producer (NT):  Fran Miller
Producer (Fuel):  Kate McGrath
Producer (West Yorkshire Playhouse):  Mimi Poskitt
Production Manager:  Richard Eustace
Casting:  Wendy Spon
Stage Manager:  Andrew Speed
Deputy Stage Manager:  Fiona Bardsley
Assistant Stage Manager:  Naomi Brooks
Project Draughting / Digital Art:  Natalie McCormack
Costume Supervisor:  Lydia Crimp
Wigs, Hair & Make-up Supervisor:  Renata Hill
Prop Supervisor:  Chris Lake
Prop Buyers:  Sian Willis and Rebecca Johnston
Lighting Supervisor:  Michael Harpur
Lighting Programmer:  Kate Greaves
Sound & Video Supervisor:  Sarah Weltman
Sound Operator:  Ben Vernon
Stage Supervisor:  Lee Harrington
Rigging Supervisor:  Phil Horsburgh
Construction Supervisor Dave Cotton
Scenic Art Supervisor:  Daina Ennis
Dramaturgs:  Sebastian Born and Tom Lyons
Production Photographer:  Marc Brenner

Webcast , Theatre ,

1hr 45mins - no interval

An exhilarating, moving, illuminating and humbling experience

Review by Terry MacTavish 17th May 2020

If you ever doubted the vital importance of barber shops pre-Covid-19, you now need only to contemplate the astounding queues of hairy men outside all those barbers on the stroke of midnight at the drop to Alert Level 2. I confess previously I’d thought of hairdressing salons as women-space, cosy gossip and pampering stations of warmth, perfume and glossy magazines, with sympathetic attendants akin to psychotherapists whose sole aim was to make us Feel Good. How narrow-minded of me. 

Naturally both genders have an inalienable right to Feel Good, but particularly for the black male living in a country that may not welcome him into masculine strongholds like public bars or sporting arenas, the barber shop is where he can feel safe as well as pampered. “Without fathers and exiled from our motherland,” says one, “we are orphans.” Once this fact registers, we know we are in for intimate confessions and possibly some deep delving into eternal truths. What we might not expect is the radiant good humour and sheer fun.

Writer Inua Ellams, who sees himself as a poet who sometimes has an idea for a play, himself found shelter in barber shops while working for years on this scintillating show, which is far more than a series of chatty vignettes. It is brought to pulsating life by director Bijan Sheibani, with twelve excellent actors who swiftly create 33 vivid characters, mime haircuts and shaves, and, wielding capes like toreadors, sing and dance up a storm.

Barber Shop Chronicles has been a wild success, the public so reluctant to let it go after its season at London’s National Theatre that it has transferred to the Roundhouse. It’s easy to see why. Enchantingly energetic, a visual and aural delight, packed with memorable and entertaining characters, it is full of insight too, examining the lives of African men while probing timeless issues.

The staging in the round is simple: a luminous globe of the world and neon barber shop signs suspended from the balconies, a few chairs spinning across the floor, and all around, the grinning faces of the audience, well warmed up by pre-show shenanigans. A snazzy variety of costume helps distinguish characters we have little time to absorb. My favourite is the elegant white suit of the Ugandan who paid 60 cows as bride dowry, and has come to complain about an in-growing hair.

The minimal scene changes are the perfect excuse for dazzling song and dance numbers that reference the country we will land in. Thanks to brilliant musical director Michael Henry, along with movement director Aline David, what could have been purely utilitarian interludes become highlights, from the irresistible Afro-beat for Uganda to the lovely choral harmonies for South Africa.

The scenes cut quickly between the barber shop in Peckham, London, and those in various African countries: Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Black men in London may sound as Cockney as any Peckham barrow-boy yet still be seen as immigrants, but then so are the men who have shifted from South Africa to Zimbabwe and back again, searching for opportunities that ebb and flow with the swiftly changing politics of each country. These are all men struggling to find their own culture, that they may know their place in the world.

No holds barred, sometimes with humour, sometimes anger, they shout at sport on the ubiquitous televisions, tell awful jokes and discuss everything: national identity, child discipline, religion, alcohol, girlfriends, racism, even linguistics. Is ‘nigger’ more or less offensive than ‘kaffir’? What if you spell it ‘nigga’, is it reclaimed?

The main plot centres round the Peckham shop and Samuel, played by Akinade Hammed, who helpfully, amidst the cheery melee, wears a red hat. A talented barber himself, Sam is struggling to accept his father’s best friend as boss of the barbershop, believing this ‘uncle’ betrayed his father. The universal theme of the fundamental relationship of father and son finds an echo in many of the stories, cunningly connected, in the other shops, some funny, and some tragic. So many of these men lack a father figure they can look up to.

What I find most intriguing is the way this theme is amplified: suddenly we are talking not just broken families, but nations. Just as a boy may go from hero-worship of his father to bitter disillusionment, so many of the men see the leaders of their native countries, like Mugabe and even Mandela, as ultimate failures, who have disappointed the high hopes once held for them. One line in particular stays with me: “We live outside our countries, because our fathers, our leaders, failed us.”

I am spellbound from the hilarious opening, as an indignant barber, scratching one bared buttock, is knocked up at 6 am by a broke customer desperate for an ‘aerodynamic’ haircut to help him get a job, right to the very satisfying conclusion, which has me in tears.

With such an amazing and marvellously diverse cast, surely no audience member will miss the irony of the young London ‘actor’ who tells his barber he has been called to audition for ‘the strong black man’, as if there were one generic type.  “I don’t fit their idea of strong black masculinity,” he says sorrowfully. But he has expanded my vision.

Under other circumstances, Barber Shop Chronicles may not have seemed a play that would have much to offer a white woman living on the other side of the world, but thanks to National Theatre at Home’s generous sharing during Lockdown of this exhilarating, moving production, it has been a genuinely illuminating and humbling experience.

[See also review of the 2018 NZ Arts Festival season in Wellington.]


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