Barber Shop Chronicles at NST City REVIEW: 'The perfect antidote for a dark winter’s night'

From arriving at the theatre soaked through and in a traffic-induced funk, I was enveloped with open arms into the warmth and vibrancy of the African barber shop from the minute I stepped into the auditorium.

Thursday, 14th November 2019, 9:49 am
Updated Thursday, 14th November 2019, 9:50 am
The Barber Shop Chronicles are at NST City, November 13-16, 2019. Picture by Marc Brenner

It felt as if the cast were letting us into their pre-show warm up: ebullient dance breaks and joyfully boisterous cast and audience interactions set the scene for the piece brilliantly.

A whirlwind tour of seven barber shops across six cities in one day ensued; the actors carried us with smooth and rhythmic precision between London, Lagos, Accra, Kampala, Johannesburg and Harare.

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Barber Shop Chronicles share the stories of African men across the globe

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We witnessed the many roles of the barber: stylist, political commentator, philosopher, mediator, father figure and counsellor – the latter being idea that initially inspired the production’s writer Inua Ellams.

The interweaving of stories, relationships and traditions across the two continents is masterfully constructed and perfectly complemented by a constantly moving and visually exciting set; a mixture of music, a cappella singing and choreography to take the audience from place to place and effective lighting, highlighting the signs linked to each barbershop.

The acting is just superb without a weak link, with many of the actors taking on multiple roles with ease and clarity.

For me, stand out performances came from the seemingly self-assured Samuel (Mohammed Mansaray) who sensitively and authentically communicated the vulnerability and rage of a young man let down by the father figures in his life and the many roles of Demmy Ladipo, who lights up the stage from the off as the mischievous and optimistic Wallace and is the source of much of the play’s comedy.

Overall, the sense of camaraderie within the ensemble radiates and supports the underlying concept that barber shops are essential community hubs.

The perfect antidote for a dark winter’s night.

Until Saturday.