14 June 2017
A cut above
Barber Shop Chronicles
National Theatre, London
The National Theatre once staged what became known as “The Hare Trilogy” – three plays by Sir David Hare about the state of Britain. The latest premiere at the venue might be called “The Hair Sextet”. In Barber Shop Chronicles, Nigerian-born dramatist Inua Ellams weaves together half a dozen narrative strands taking place on the same day in barbers’ shops.
Around the small Dorfman Theatre hang what look like genuine shop signs from London, Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra, on which a spotlight falls to tell us which place we are in, although half of the 14 scenes take place in the city in which we are sitting. It also becomes increasingly clear that staff or clientele in one shop have relatives in others.
Haircuts are doubly clever as a dramatic structure. Customers are often trying to manipulate their image – for a date, job interview, or to follow a particular fashion – and barbers’ shops are places where very different types of men meet, the only exceptions the totally bald or those rich enough to have the clippers come to them. This cross-section clientele resembles a church or pub, with the further overlap that these are all places that encourage reflection and confession.
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