dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
What do men discuss in the barber's chair?
'The barber's shop is a lighthouse' says one of the many characters in Inua Ellams' hit show Barber Shop Chronicles. And the production shows us how men are drawn to this light to share their sorrows, their proudest moments, their worries and their jokes.
Based on research in the UK and Africa, Ellams' play takes us from one barber's chair to another as we enter the lives of the patrons and the shearers for just a few moments. There's the guy who needs his haircut at 6am for a job interview, another who comes after-hours because he has an audition the next day, another who needs the haircut but doesn't have the money. The barber's chair becomes a psychiatrist's couch as they exchange the problems within their families, with politics, with work – it seems there's nothing that can't be discussed with the barber.
The one recurring location is the London-based Three Kings shop where Samuel (Mohammed Mansaray) rents a chair from Emmanuel (Anthony Ofoegbu) but resents the older man, believing he took the business from Samuel's father. As the story unravels, it becomes clear the situation is much more complex.
Interspersed with this family drama, we shuttle back and forth between barbers' shops in the African metropolises of Lagos, Harare, Kampala, Accra and Johannesburg where we see so many of the same themes reflected – family breakdown, geographical displacement, exile and return. Plus a love of football - as these men across the globe either watch or listen to a soccer final between Chelsea and Barcelona.
A Fuel, National Theatre and Leeds Playhouse co-production, directed by Bijan Sheibani, Barber Shop Chronicles is a fast-paced and funky production as we race back and forth across the Equator all in one day, meeting characters in short snapshots of humour and pathos. The 12-strong cast switch between characters with ease, slipping in and out of roles and different barbers' chairs throughout the 105 minute long production.
Rae Smith's designs, with a huge globe above the stage which turns with a lit-up Africa and different signs for each shop, helps us locate where we have moved to – as do the political references to Mugabe, Mandela, Goodluck, Trump and Johnson.
Ellams' play is a celebration of life – whether in good times or turbulent ones. Despite the worries faced by many of the men, there is also so much which holds them together – friendship, family, loyalty. With its energy, lively soundtrack and the same joke shared in country after country, it's a series of dramas taking place across continents but reminding us that at heart we all share the same hopes, dreams and fears.
At Birmingham Rep until 28 September, then on tour to Oxford, Inverness, Edinburgh, Southampton and Leeds. See www.barbershopchronicles.co.uk for full tour information.