HAVE you ever really thought about the role a barber shop plays as a male domain?
Nigerian-born UK-based writer Inua Ellams (Perth Festival 2017 artist-in-residence, The 14th Tale, An Evening With an Immigrant, Midnight Run) started to in 2010 when he heard about a pilot project teaching barbers the basics of counselling.
It inspired him to write Barber Shop Chronicles, for which he spent six weeks researching across Africa. He returned with 60 hours of recordings, which resulted in a 1 hour and 45 minute production of conversations between men in barber shops that is 40 per cent verbatim and 60 per cent invented.
From a barber shop in London to establishments in Nigeria, Ghana, Johannesburg, South Africa and Zimbabwe, the audience is witness to intimate conversations and the occasional argument surrounding relationships, politics, family responsibility and raising children, all brought together with the commonality of everybody watching a Barcelona versus Chelsea football final.
The production is showing at Octagon Theatre, UWA, as part of Perth Festival until February 18 and proves a joyous experience for both audiences and the 12 cast members.
Never before has this reviewer entered an auditorium where some theatre-goers were asked “if they’d like a hair cut?” and guided on to the stage to be immersed in a mock scenario involving props of mirrors, clippers and afro combs while chatting away with their “barber” and grooving along to hip-hop beats.
Dancing and singing add to the cultural vibe as the play begins and the audience is transported between settings and captivating conversations between barbers and their clients, from ideology surrounding Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe to race and derogatory terminology.
Mostly humorous and at times heartbreaking, Barber Shop Chronicles is “a beacon for community where men come to be men” and audiences leave uplifted for experiencing it.