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The Theatreguide.London Review

Barbershop Chronicles
Roundhouse   Summer 2019

The party is already in progress when we arrive at the Roundhouse. The performance space is packed with people drinking, dancing, chatting and occasionally sitting in a barbershop chair for a quick haircut.

This is the pre-show to Inua Ellam's Barbershop Chronicles, a fast, funny and engaging play that takes us to the barbershops of five African countries and London, over one day in 2012 when Chelsea competed with Barcelona in the European Champions League.

These shops are conversational hubs, where black males swap stories, talk about their worries and speculate about the world.

In Uganda, a barber warns a customer against doing anything about a gay neighbour who he suspects of stealing his cow, telling him 'It will be bad for business.'

As men in a South African barbershop talk about the reasons they still couldn't use the terms 'nigger' and 'kaffir' so associated with slavery and apartheid, Simphiwe (Emmanuel Ighodaro), admits that childhood poverty led him to allow white boys who paid him a dollar to call him 'kaffir'.

A key talking point in the play is the absence of fathers. In the Three Kings shop in London, the young barber Samuel (Mohammed Mansaray) suspects others of getting his father falsely imprisoned.

A young man who never knew his father is getting a haircut on route to an audition for the role of a strong black man and pondering what that quality might mean.

Sometimes a character questions conventional views of public figures, with one claiming Nelson Mandela failed South Africa by leaving black people 'still prostrated' as 'the balance of economic power' is left with white people.

A cast of twelve, many playing multiple male characters, is lively and entertaining, even in the riveting musical dance sequences choreographed by Aline David that shift scenes from one country to another.

This is an exciting National Theatre, Fuel and Leeds Playhouse co-production in association with the Roundhouse that is to tour the UK.

Keuith McKenna

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Review -  Barbershop Chronicles - Roundhouse 2019