Barber Shop Chronicles at the Royal ExchangeKristy Stott, Theatre Editor
For generations, African men have gathered in barber shops to put the world to rights. They have hair cuts, sometimes they listen and usually they talk. Newsroom, political platform, confessional booth, preacher pulpit and local meeting point – barber shops provide a place for barbed banter and telling truths. A place to visit for unofficial advice, and to keep in touch with the world.
Charting global dialogues and dynamic goings-on, Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles travels from a barber shop in South London to Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra.
Presented as part of Contact In The City Part Three and performed at Manchester’s iconic Royal Exchange, Barber Shop Chronicles takes audiences into a male world of politics and ritual, putting lives on stage which have not been seen there before.
Set in the round and directed by Bijan Sheibani, Barber Shop Chronicles centres around the troubled relationship between Emmanuel, the owner of Three Kings barbershop and Samuel, who is also a barber and the son of Emmanuel’s oldest friend. There’s plenty simmering under the surface with Sam believing that his dad was wrongfully driven out of the business. Sam’s resentment builds against the compassionate Emmanuel revealing climactic revelations for the audience.
Soulful and life-affirming; hilarious and heart-warming, Barber Shop Chronicles tackles black masculinity and men’s mental health and hints at the rich and nuanced canvas of black male experience. Through Barber Shop Chronicles Inua Ellam depicts real African men, and men he has actually met and in doing so shines a light on the plethora of voices and different types of men who are not visible or heard in theatres, television and radio.