Jo Tomalin

Reviews

Cal Performances Fuel Theatre Barbershop Chronicles 3 Marc Brenner E1540882906516

Barber Shop Chronicles – Vibrant, Moving, Entertaining!

above: Pictured: Barber Shop Chronicles, A Fuel, National Theatre, and West Yorkshire Playhouse Co-production, runs Friday–Sunday, October 26–28, 2018 in Zellerbach Hall. Pictured, from left: Sule Rimi, Kwami Odoom, David Webber, Fisayao Akinade, Cyril Nri, Hammed Animashaun, Simon Manyonda, Patrice Naiambana, Maynard Eziashi.
(credit: Marc Brenner)

Barber Shop Chronicles – Vibrant, Moving, Entertaining!

Pictured: Barber Shop Chronicles, A Fuel, National Theatre, and West Yorkshire Playhouse Co-production, runs Friday–Sunday, October 26–28, 2018 in Zellerbach Hall.
(credit: Marc Brenner)

The Barber Shop Chronicles by Inua Ellams, directed by Bijan Sheibani, performed October 26-28, 2018 in its Bay Area Premiere of a co-production by Britain’s Fuel Theatre, National Theatre, and West Yorkshire Playhouse, presented by Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA. As part of the 2018/19 Berkeley RADICAL programming initiative, Citizenshipthis thematic strand concerns human perspectives, around the current debate on immigration and nationalism.

Nigerian-born, UK-based poet and playwright Inua Ellams wrote Barber Shop Chronicles based on his own experiences as an immigrant. Set in six different barber shops in Africa and the UK – London, Lagos, Johannesburg, Accra, Kampala, and Harare – we discover how daily life revolves around these modest places that are vital meeting points for black men to share and discuss their lives, passions, family and fears. Vivid well-drawn characters and poignant dynamic relationships in each barber shop’s story intersperse through  episodic scenes, brilliant transitions with eclectic music and chants, physical movement and snappy choreography, then on to the next shop.

Pictured: Barber Shop Chronicles, A Fuel, National Theatre, and West Yorkshire Playhouse Co-production, runs Friday–Sunday, October 26–28, 2018 in Zellerbach Hall. Pictured, from left: Cyril Nri and Kwami Odoom. (credit: Marc Brenner)

A solid cast of twelve actors play almost thirty characters and quickly change to become clients, friends or barbers in each shop. The play takes place over a day and the journey from country to country is seamless due to a canny set design by Rae Smith. A huge metal globe high up turns and lights up different countries during transitions with the outline of the country glowing as the new scene begins. An assortment of mismatched well-worn chairs on the stage and signs of each barber shop with images of current hair styles for men and names like Abrams Gents Salon, and the Three Kings Barber Shop above the stage in a tangle of electricity poles and neon lit wires, add authenticity and atmosphere. There is a slight variation in each location of accent, history and legacy concerns. In one of the early scenes with two actors the authentic and consistent accents made part of the conversation difficult to understand, but this passed quickly.

In this strong ensemble piece, scenes in the London barber shop that centre on Emmanuel, played by Anthony Ofoegbu and Samuel played by Elliot Edusah are particularly moving and relatable. The stories and concerns of the inhabitants in all of these barber shops start with humor, impassioned urgency (sometimes for the need of a haircut!) and the trajectory develops exploring topics such as losing a language when a new generation arrives, masculinity, money, ambition, immigration, family, fathers, slaves, religion, politics – and football.

The Barber Shop Chronicles is a well written and performed, creative and meaningful production – vibrant, insightful, moving and entertaining – a must see show!

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Jo Tomalin, Ph.D. reviews Dance, Theatre & Physical Theatre Performances
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