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THEATRE ONLINE Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre at Home

Life-affirming narratives in a beautifully realised male preserve

EVEN before lockdown, NT Live was bringing great theatre to a significantly wider audience than previously possible and now its free streamings offer more of the same, among them Inua Ellams’s Barber Shop Chronicles.

The barber’s shop, we're told, is “where men come to be men” and this play is a chance to bask in an exclusively masculine world — a novel and refreshing setting at a time when the cause of women is the more common concern.

Heart-warming, affectionate, amusing and life affirming, the characters are all African, or at least of that extraction. In a continent as huge as Africa, those lineages are as diverse and nuanced as it is possible to imagine — among them here Nigerian, Zimbabwean, Cameroonian and Ghanaian — while some are Jamaican and others embrace Britishness.

Some speak pidgin, others local languages, some are revolutionary, others businessmen. All have their own unique stories to tell and all are in some way defined by their fathers.

And they  communicate experiences to each other whose details are so particularised as to be mesmerising. Their diversity and humanity shine through and that’s where this play excels.

Bijan Sheibani directs a luminous cast, all of whom dance and rap, at a cracking pace, with barbers expertly brandishing clippers and comb, while customers in swivel chairs indulge their own essential vanity.

And when football and the shared longing of every character to beat Barcelona raises them to a unified passion and stirs a comprehensive rapport between themselves and the universe, all becomes a glorious celebration of what it means to be a man, today, trapped in the march of history.

Uplifting and enlightening.

Online until May 20, nationaltheatre.org.uk

 

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