When I visited Benin for the first time over 15 years ago, I was in awe of the amazing hand painted signs that adorned shops and restaurants. The colours and the names the business owners had come up with; I thought the whole thing was amazing.
The best signs were definitely the ones promoting barber shops so it was with fondness that I enjoyed the banners on display at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre for the arrival of worldwide smash hit, Barber Shop Chronicles.
— Lifestyle District (@LStyleDistrict) May 2, 2019
I didn’t want to find out too much about the show in advance to keep it a surprise, but I was far from imagining just how wonderful the show would be.
Barber Shop Chronicles, which had two sell-out runs at the National Theatre and a world tour, takes you on a real journey. One full of colour, laughter but also sadness.
It’s centred around the story of Samuel, a young barber prodigy who rents a chair in what used to be his dad’s barber shop in London and makes his disdain for the new owner quite clear. His tale is interspersed with trips to barber shops in Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra where the actors change names and roles to share multiple stories.
Each conversation reveals how the men face family struggles as they reflect on parental discipline, homosexuality, political dissonance, a quest for identity and colonialism and its impact on language.
A fresh haircut gives these men more than just a boost of self-confidence. It becomes almost a therapeutic experience for some.
The actors are fabulous and give out so much energy it’s hard not to lose yourself completely in the play as the audience is transported in a theatrical tardis from one city to the next. The mix of music and songs in between scene changes made us even more eager to hear the next confession, the next joke, the next dream and the next scream of delight when Chelsea scores against Barcelona.
The social and emotional support offered by the barber shops is beautifully illustrated in this whirlwind of a play, which will leave you sad, happy and hungry for more.
Barber Shop Chronicles is at Bristol Old Vic until 18 May.
Production photography by Marc Brenner.