Theatre Things: 11 thoughts on The Barbershop Chronicles

OK, this is a bit of a throwback….saw this in November…I know, I know- Better late than never but never late is better etc…………

The Barbershop Chronicles bounces through hilarious antics played out in six barbershops across six cities: Lagos, Accra (the best, obvs), Harare, Kampala and Johannesburg, with London’s Three Kings Barbers at the centre. Expect to hear requests for free cuts (of course), political disagreements and bragging lotharios- all tied neatly together with a Chelsea game and an oddly 90’s poster.

The play was amazing. I walked away inspired, entertained and thinking about how much I need to step my writing game up. It was also the second run so all the great things about it that can be said have probably already been said…and said…. and said . The set was on point, the actors were versatile (perfect accents), the music had as much a place in the acts as the actors did. I’m not going repeat all that but here are a few things the brash guys with clippers made me think…


  1. Uncle Olu doesn’t care what you think.

If you are under 40 and deign to offer your opinion to an African adult about anything- prepare to be met with annoyance. You are a small girl/boy. Your opinions are obviously uninformed and unwelcome. You are irrelevant. Come back in twenty years. Don’t try and offer a modern perspective on anything, the shut down will be swift. Be quiet while being told that it is fine for disciplinary beatings to maim and that autism is the mum’s fault.


  1. Getting a high top fade cut doubling as a social event is a real thing

My male cousins and my guy spend way longer in the barbershop than a haircut takes. Sometimes to their annoyance but mostly for the love of trash talks, complete with liquor. Ice Cube didn’t make that shit up.

I was wondering why salons don’t have the legendary status barbershops have as the place for candid discussions to take place and for time of lives to be had? Is it because although women do these things at the salon, we also do them in various other places? Spas, Oxford Street, brunch…..guys do brunch too though


  1. Black men don’t often get to own the narrative around black masculinity

The Barbershop Chronicles provides what is likely to be most authentic representation I’ve seen of African men on stage. It is really an honest look at black masculinity- African in particular- through the conversations of black men. Perhaps even more importantly, it casts a light without bending through the media’s favourite prisms for this subject (read crime or racism). It’s a casual look, no one is preachy here- Barbershop is mostly a comic play but there are also many serious ‘message’ moments- relationships, employment, image, father-son relationships.


The Barbershop Chronicles

omg, the quality of iPhone6 camera is…..


  1. I know the guys in these barbershops- everyone does

– A smart arse who takes an hour to answer a question when they could just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ so you can make your way home while the sun is still up

– A ladies man who has to beg for the one woman he actually wants. Woe is me.

-A business man with a mobile phone as an appendage, charisma for days and tips for anyone who’ll listen. Remember from Desmond’s?

-The guy who’s ‘ready’ to move back home and just needs a little help mustering up the courage. If you don’t go too, then obviously, you don’t love your country.


  1. I’m not really good at remembering names in plays.

In real life, I don’t forget names but when watching plays/ TV/ Movies, I will remember faces and forget names. I watched Stranger Things 1 twice and I still didn’t remember the sister’s name until about the third episode of Stranger Things 2. Her name is Nancy. With about 12 guys playing about 30 different characters in The Barbershop Chronicles I forgot everyone’s name except about 4 of them. I can’t even remember my favourite character’s name.


  1. It was an all male show.

Not one woman; woman were wives, girlfriends (and side girlfriends), mothers and daughters to be spoken of and never seen. Normally I’d be inclined to take issue here but in this case it probably makes sense. It’s the reality of a barbershop. I’ve only ever been to about two in my life (with my cousins) and I was the only girl there. The only other time women are in the barbershop is when bringing their sons in. Their sons are embarrassed.


  1. This was a FUBU affair but everyone was invited for the ride

The audience was mostly white which I should have been surprised at because of the subject matter but wasn’t really because of the venue (National Theatre). Impressively, the play wasn’t watered down to suit the masses at all. It was mostly in pidgin and there were almost no holds barred on subject matte. The Barbershop chronicles had a real For Us By Us Feel (word to Solange) but everyone was welcome to come for the ride. Some of the subjects (eg Afrikaan settlement and colonisation) could have made for uncomfortable viewing but in a world where Trump borderline defends Nazis and BLM have to demonstrate regularly, this was almost teatime fodder. Doesn’t mean there wasn’t the odd uncomfortable shuffle in the gallery though. Sometimes needed


  1. The Barbershop/Salon/Grocery/ Anything store poster ads in Africa all look the same

I love these posters. I don’t mean the corporate marketing billboards, I mean the hand drawn posters/pictures you see in the market or at local kiosks, especially barbers or salons. I have no idea how artists across Ghana paint these so the style is so consistent everywhere. Imagine if it was the same guy painting them all BUT NO ONE EVER SEES HIM. Like an African Banksy. Kofisky.



  1. I’ve heard every single conversation in this play before

From the ‘maybe Maguabe is good’ thing (timely, considering the coup), all the way to the ‘date a white girl or date a black girl’ thing. Just made it even more authentic.


  1. The Barbershop Chronicles is brilliantly written

As someone who often attempts writing well, I have to applaud Inua Ellams for writing such a clever play and making characters across five or six different countries tie together seamlessly through common themes, a joke and a traveling poster. It seemed very genuine creatively – I did get the sense that the person who wrote the play was the same person who wrote Candy Coated Unicorns And Converse All Stars because Barbershops are a very ordinary thing but Ellams managed to pull the extraordinary from it.


  1. Africans respond to life, you can keep your Rolex.

A desperate client manages to dissuade a progressive barber from introducing appointment times because ‘Africans respond to life’ which I found hilarious and honest. It’s also painful if you’re the early one out of your friends. If my friends are reading, I’m not saying I’m the early one… I’m just saying.


This is a follow on from my review of Inua Ellams’  Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stars 

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