National Theatre, London – until 9 January 2018
“It’s not about the word, it’s the context in which it’s used and who uses it.”
A much welcome reprise for this extraordinary production of Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles, a co-production with Fuel & West Yorkshire Playhouse which sold out its initial run at the Dorfman in the summer and has already sold out this return engagement which brings back the original cast, ahead of a wee international tour when four new players, David Ajao, Bayo Gbadamosi, Martins Imhangbe and Tuwaine Barrett, will step in for Anthony Welsh, Fisayo Akinade, Hammed Animashaun and Simon Manyonda.
That it is sold out shouldn’t stop you from trying to get tickets – there’s Friday Rush and there’s refreshing this page in case of returns, and boy is it worth it. Bijan Sheibani’s production does that magnificent thing of genuinely transforming the theatre into someplace else, someplace special, and the energy that crackles through every single minute of the performance – which starts from the moment you walk into the auditorium, this is definitely a show to be early for – is charged with the significance of these stories being told.
Black masculinity takes a rare moment in the spotlight here. The role of the barbershop in creating a sense of community, of safe haven, is used to take us to six cities worldwide, to find those places where African men sit down and really talk. And it is as fresh and funny, and intimate and insightful as it was before, (niftily updated to reflect the political changes in Zimbabwe too!) its engaging exuberance a real tonic, the excellence of its ensemble an absolute highlight of the theatrical year.