Barber Shop Chronicles @ Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Barber Shop Chronicles is a bold, ambitious production with an electrifying cast and an astonishing stage design

Review by Chris Dobson | 25 Oct 2019
  • Barber Shop Chronicles @ The Lyceum, Edinburgh

Barber Shop Chronicles is the bold creation of Nigerian writer Inua Ellams and award-winning director Bijan Sheibani. With a cast of twelve actors, a narrative spanning multiple countries, and only an hour and forty-five minutes to tell it in, it’s an ambitious play – but it pulls off this difficult feat with gusto.

The stage itself, designed by Rae Smith, is astonishing. A rotating globe above the characters acts both as a map and a disco ball. Interconnected vignettes are separated by song-and-dance interludes, with Jack Knowles’ lighting design drawing our attention to which country we are now in. Sound designer Gareth Fry keeps the energy of performers and viewers alike at an ecstatic high, with hip hop and rap music used to electrifying effect.

All of the characters are male, and the play itself is, among other things, an examination of toxic masculinity through a postcolonial lens. Ellams and Sheibani make us consider how men perform maleness, and why. Although all of the characters are black and cismale, there is diversity in the range of individuals depicted on stage: quiet men, aggressive men; boastful men, shy men. Barber Shop Chronicles touches on other important themes, too, such as racism in the modern world, and the legacies of African leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe.

In some ways, Barber Shop Chronicles has a specific focus, but in another way, it is universal in its exploration of concepts such as home and community. For the characters depicted on stage, no matter where in the world their stories take place, the barber shop acts as a focal point in which to meet up, share jokes and – perhaps most importantly – watch the football.

Barber Shop Chronicles is another strong showing in the Lyceum’s 2019/20 season. This production leaves all audience members with a buzz: it’s fun, it’s serious and it’s original. At a time when racism seems to be going through a bit of a renaissance in some quarters, it’s so important that as many people as possible see theatre like this.

Barber Shop Chronicles, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until 9 Nov