Written by Chukwuemeke Ogbue
There was a commotion in the heart of the arena as I took my seat, it could only be described as chaos. As I got over my initial, momentary shock I realized this was a crafty, well-choreographed, orderly chaos, reminiscent of the main street in any of the cities we would soon journey through. Without knowing it, I was being immersed in the world I was about to witness. Orchestrating all of this was the DJ stood in the centre of the chaos and playing a selection of hip-hop, garage, grime, Afrobeat and Afropop classics. Using music as his instrument, he set the rhythm, as cast members, dancing with casual abandon, invited the audience to take photos and have a haircut on stage. The gesture was well received and it created a street party feel to the occasion. It was a vibrancy that continued all through the play, seamlessly weaving from scene to scene as the story unfurled before the audience.
There are ongoing conversations in our society about the importance of safe spaces, avenues where healthy self-expression can happen without fear of harmful responses from those in witness. It is a concept that is beautifully portrayed here. Nothing is left off the table and we are blessed with a range of interactions, some light-hearted and comical, others intense and haunting, all taking place on the barbershop floor. For these men, the barbershop is the church, a sanctuary of sorts for the various patrons and the barbers that service them. As we travel their world via the story they portray, we visit places that are all distinct and individual, yet intricately connected and interwoven; therein lies the production’s genius. It continually shows what mutual respect and a sense of accountability, without the burden of a false definition of masculinity could look like; a young man nervous about an upcoming interview, a father’s regret or a son’s anger and betrayal. The angst that plagues the returning diaspora. Men constantly re-defining their sense of self.
In truth, this is an apt portrayal of life. Globalisation has brought us much closer together in ways we rarely understand or think of. Our stories and paths are as tight-knit as newly laid braids. Stories we believe unrelatable due to distance and cultural variations are much closer to home than we believe. Often, for a lot of us, we never realise this because we lack our barbershop, a space welcoming to a variety of self-expression.
The Barbershop Chronicles is on show at the Roundhouse, London until the 24th of August. It will also be showing at various cities including Birmingham, Oxford, Inverness, Edinburgh, Southampton and Leeds. Tickets are available through the website www.barbershopchronicles.co.uk.