The Barber Shop Chronicles | Fuel, National Theatre and West Yorkshire PlayhousePhotos – Toni Wilkinson

This show promised much. It is not, as advertised by the Perth Festival, an Australian Premiere. In fact it has had a Sydney season in January.

As the audience was getting seated cast members were inveigling people down onto the stage and seating them in random barber’s chairs. A sound desk on stage pumped out the beats and cast members jumped and jived. The atmosphere was relaxed and anticipatory.

Barber shops, like ladies’ hairdressers, are traditionally seen as repositories of confidential and often controversial opinions. History, race, colour, bigotry, politics and sex – nothing is taboo in this sanctuary.

The set by Rae Smith was terrific, there were “aged” barber shop signs from London and various African nations suspended above the stage. Above a neon lit world globe slowly spun each time the barber shop destination changed. Barber’s chairs were whirled around the set to create new niche settings for each segment. The most common setting is a London barber shop, 3 Kings, whose owner Emanuel (Cyril Nyi) is accused by Samuel (Bayo Gbadamosi) the son of a former partner, of cheating Samuel’s father out of the partnership.

Puzzlingly the Sydney season was advertised as being 110 minutes whereas the Octagon Theatre production was 1 hour and 45 minutes. I felt there were so many issues addressed in this work that it becomes over-complicated as well as over long.

The play focuses on the feelings of Black African about being transferred to another land and culture, in this case Britain, first or second generation it seems to make little difference. Politics too enter the conversation. Robert Mugabe is discussed as a villain and a hero Arguments rage for and against Nelson Mandela and interestingly, there is admiration for Winnie Mandela.

There is implicit anger but it is tempered by pathos, humour and conviviality of the strong, engaging characters. However one can only admire the cast of 12 who work at extraordinary energy levels to deliver the rapid fire dialogue and physically taxing moves.

The most delightful aspect of the performance is the exuberant choreography and music between the barbershop settings.

 

A Fuel, National Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse co-production
Barber Shop Chronicles
by Inua Ellams

Director Bijan Sheibani

Venue: Octagon Theatre | UWA, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley WA
Dates: 2 – 18 Feb 2018
Tickets: $25 – $69
Bookings: perthfestival.com.au

 

 

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