There are not many pieces of theatre where just in the pre-set, you are already thinking when you can see it again, but Fuel Theatre’s Barber Shop Chronicles is. Packed with energy and bursting with culture, it’s a piece of theatre that will grasp you from the moment you step foot into the auditorium, or actually, the barber shop.
Set around the world, from Ghana to London, it is a production that tackles the tricky subjects of the representation of men, mental health, sexuality and culture. Director Bijan Sheibani has approached these themes with gusto, making them resonate with the audience and highlighting the similarities in today’s society.
The cleverly written script by Inua Ellams allows audiences of every different background to connect with the story, whatever their race. Barber Shop Chronicles highlights the importance of talking, especially about male mental health.
Fitting the theatre’s setting perfectly, designer Rae Smith creates a visually remarkable set that transports the audience around the world with the simple movement of a chair, sitting right in on the action of the barber shops worldwide. This is enhanced by Jack Knowles’ exquisite lighting that aids the audience’s understanding of the economic situation in each county, whether it be a single light or a whole shop of bright lights. The intimacy of The Royal Exchange’s theatre in the round makes the audience feel like a fly on the wall in these shops, which allows the audience to feel an even stronger connection to the characters and their stories.
This production relies on a strong ensemble, and every single member of the cast gave it their all to create the different layers and locations in this textured piece of theatre. The vocals were stunning, directed by Michael Henry, as the cast changed the set. Traditional songs from Africa were sung in perfect ‘Barber Shop choir’ harmony and added to the feeling of tradition and heritage that this show resonates.
Despite the saddening feeling that some of the original African cultures are fading, such as the use of the Nigerian Pidgin language, there are some touching moments of hope where you see the connections between each of the characters. I will not give any more away on that part. You will have to come and see the show to find out.
The Royal Exchange’s production of Barber Shop Chronicles is electric and will fuel your body with emotion for days. A pure example of first-rate acting and entertainment at it’s finest. This cast has raised the bar on what storytelling really is.
On at The Royal Exchange Theatre until the 23rd of March, tickets and information can be found on their website.
Barber Shop Chronicles is brought to you by The Royal Exchange Theatre and Contact, presenting a co-production between Fuel, the National Theatre and Leeds Playhouse.