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Live / stage review

Barber Shop Chronicles at the Crucible

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For generations, African men have met in barbershops and this part of African culture is just as vital in the UK today. Throughout Barber Shop Chronicles we hear stories of family, loss, displacement, political dissatisfaction and, of course, the same football and the same jokes regardless of location.

Inua Ellams, the Nigerian born poet and playwright, came up with the idea for the play after seeing a pamphlet about a project to teach barbers the basics of counselling. Over the years, the idea turned into a voice that became a dialogue, and his research took him on a six-week tour of Africa, where he collected 60 hours of recordings that became this play.

Across six barbershops in London, Lagos, Johannesburg, Kampala, Harare and Accra, we are offered a window into African culture and how it has been brought to the UK through music, songs, dancing and the Nigerian Pidgin language. We hear discussions of how fathers behaved and how they should behave; the difference between dating a black woman and a white woman; and questions over what is a strong black male (you are asking the wrong question, the character tells us. You should be asking, 'Who are you?'). Of course, questions about fatherhood and mental health in men are relevant across all cultures and it's heartening to watch the characters support each other with a light touch as the stories unfold.

Joyful and expressive, funny, energetic and poignant, Barber Shop Chronicles is just what a play should be. It's provocative and educational, a window into the culture of black men across the world, not trying to answer the questions it poses, but simply letting us enjoy being transported between cities through stories, music, singing and dancing.

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