On Our Shelves Now
Inspired in part by the story of a Leeds barber, the play invites the audience into a unique environment where the banter may be barbed, but the truth always telling. The barbers of these tales are sages, role models and father figures who keep the men together and the stories alive.
'This is an absolute cracker. Inua Ellams has the simple but ingenious idea of exploring black masculinity through the humble barber's shop... It's funny, fast, laced with music and dance, and performed with irresistible good humour and style... But deep down this is also a thoughtful, serious and moving piece of drama... he writes with zip and a wonderful ear, and the piece is beautifully woven.' Financial Times ★★★★
'It’s a play crammed with questions, discussing African attitudes to parental discipline in one scene, and the role Nigerian Pidgin plays in cultural identity in the next. Idea follows idea: Christianity as a business fattening the wallets of pastors; the western media’s depiction of Lagos; the way that words can be used to debase and destroy. Again and again the plays returns to the theme of black masculinity and the different shapes it can take... The tone of the play shifts fluidly from comedy to poignancy to rage... This is all handled with skill and a huge amount of warmth. Barber Shop Chronicles is a pleasure to experience. The level of joy in the room is high... Rich, exhilarating theatre that opens a window into a world of men.' The Stage ★★★★★
'Introducing us to 30 individual characters in barber shops the world over, Ellams reminds us of the sheer cultural diversity wrapped up in blackness... "This is our pub," insists one regular. Simply by putting such a culturally exclusive space on a public stage, Ellams is doing something potent – opening up a closed space, airing its conversations on a wider scale and inviting others in... this is, in more ways than one, a play about roots. London's black community is made up of different diaspora – each with its own heritage, parentage, politics and perspective... Fathers recur, as do public role models – rappers and politicians – and the idea of inherited values, identities and histories comes to the fore. Ellams ties unresolved issues and historic injustices to the prevalence of mental health issues in black men, suggesting that the political affects the personal.' Matt Trueman, What's On Stage ★★★★
'Inua Ellams has always explored ideas of masculinity and migration through his plays and slam poetry performances. Here, he pushes those themes onto a global stage in this new piece, which braids together various conversations in six different barbershops, from London to Lagos to Johannesburg, across the course of a single day... Ellams has an instinctive feel for the polyphonous rhythms of dialogue, and the way his characters use language is both a texture and a theme of this play, which threads in debates on Nigerian Pidgin and the use of the N word with casual ease. He skilfully maintains control of his sprawling cast... This is a show full of sadness and great joy.' Telegraph ★★★★
'It’s always bracing to watch the National open its arms, doors and repertoire to new work, new audiences, new experiences. There’s certainly not been anything like this all-male, all-black piece from poet/playwright Inua Ellams, which bounces with brio as it whisks us around a series of African barber shops in six countries on two continents over the space of a single day... it becomes gradually clear that these resolutely female-free spaces are also part confessional, part psychiatrist’s chair for both the staff and customers. Hefty topics ripple and re-echo over the thousands of miles that separate the establishments: how to be a father, how to be a son, how to be a man. A joke about a fly in a pint also travels effortlessly.' Evening Standard ★★★★