Barber Shop Chronicles, directed by Bijan Sheibani, takes you on a round the world journey to barber shops in Peckham, Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra. A beautiful warm-hearted exploration of culture and what it means to be a strong, black man in today’s world, it is both an original and thought-provoking piece of theatre.

Taking place over one day, the action partly revolves around the Chelsea v Barcelona Cup Final of 2012 which provides a common link to all of the barber shops we visit. Several plot threads run throughout the show, but the themes here are important, with the role of various types of discrimination, particularly race and gender and the impact of these on the sense of self, society and mental health all being explored in an interesting way.

Dark comedy prevents the piece from becoming too heavy and in this way the play achieves what the best dramas on social issues do, giving you an opportunity to think about serious matters without being preached at or told what to think.

The show features ensemble cast, with most of the actors playing multiple roles. The characterisation is excellent throughout and each of the characters shown is an individual. The cast deserve praise as a whole for creating this lively and interesting world.

The banter in the barber shops has a sting in its tale and there are some wonderfully dramatic moments in which sound and silence are brilliantly contrasted to create tension. Dialogue is repeated in the different barber shops, subtly creating echoes which tie the narrative together.

The set mostly consists of swivel chairs and barbershop trollies which the cast move around in brilliantly choreographed movements to the sounds of a vibrant and varied soundtrack to create the different shops. Some chairs cleverly double up to symbolise locked doors and mimed mirrors and creative lighting create different atmospheres without the need for lengthy set changes.

This play a wonderfully heart-warming piece of theatre; whose beauty lies in its deceptively simple premise. Generations clash as they discuss opinions about politics and family life, and it is easy to identify both with the desire for progress and the resistance to change and culture being swallowed up by modern British and American ideas. As we learn more about the characters and the links they share from across the world, we also witness the uncovering of long hidden secrets which means that this single day will change lives forever.

Barber Shop Chronicles is being streamed on YouTube until 21st May 2020

Reviewer: Donna M Day

Reviewed: 14th May 2020

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★