Barber Shop Dramaturgy

The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh is delighted to present FuelNational Theatre of Great Britain and Leeds Playhouse’s smash-hit production of Barber Shop Chronicleswhich arrives to Scotland for the first time following an acclaimed national tour, two sold-out runs at the National Theatre of Great Britain, and celebrated tours of Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada.

Directed by Olivier Award-winning Bijan SheibaniBarber Shop Chronicles is written by award-winning playwright and author Inua Ellams (Black T Shirt Collection, The Half-God of Rainfall, Knight Watch, An Evening with an Immigrant), whose journey as a theatre maker began with a Fringe First in Edinburgh in 2009 with his first play, The 14th Tale.

Newsroom, political podium, local hot-spot, confession box, preacher-pulpit, and football stadium – for generations, African men have gathered in barber shops to discuss the world. In this dynamic play journeys from barber shops in London, to Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra, where the banter can be barbed and the truth is always telling.

Barber Shop Chronicles at the Roundhouse (c) Marc Brenner

Response from Emmanuel Ighodaro
Question ONE: As this is the Scottish premiere of this work, do you feel that there is any particular response that the production is likely to receive North of the Border?
It is difficult to say in advance what kind of reception the play will receive. I personally hope it is accepted and celebrated North of the Border. My limited knowledge of Edinburgh, (this will be my first outing), is that the city is multi-cultural so I think, because of that, there will be a better understanding of the themes and topics discussed in the play. The fact that one of the best universities in the UK is there, means that young people from different walks of life will be flocking to the city and these are some of the people we are particularly keen on seeing the show.


QUESTION TWO: It has been a great success at the Roundhouse and National Theatre: do you feel that there are any particular reasons for this success, and what kind of responses have audiences given the production?
From first-hand experience at The Roundhouse (and I imagine similarly with The National too), the show was successful here because of the demographic of the audiences that came to see it and their obvious connection to the characters. We had Black, Asian, white audiences; we even had many people come to see the show that were actually from one of the six cities across Africa that we visit in the play. What I love about this play is that no matter where our audiences may be from the response is always one of enjoyment and education.

The responses we have received have been extremely upbeat and heartfelt and I’ve had audience members approach me and tell me how much the play evoked, both good and bad memories for them.

Although Barber Shop Chronicles is performed by twelve men of colour, the subjects that are addressed are universal from father and son relationships to politics identity and belonging.

The show is punctuated with song dance and whirlwind scene changes that I can assure you have never been seen or done before in this way.

QUESTION THREE: The barber shop itself has been a place of ‘performance’ (in the broader sense of a sociological phenomenon): does this environment speak to you at all, and either challenging or inspiring about using it as a foundation of the play?
Barber shops are seen as safe spaces where men can go to be groomed and have an open, non-judgmental conversation with their barber and anyone else in the space. They have become a real place for bonding and forming lasting friendships which is why I feel many people who frequent these places like to have the same guy cutting their hair, not only because he does the best job but who is also a good listener and conversationalist.

I had to travel out of my area when I was younger so I never had a local barber to me growing up until I was much older.

Question FOUR: There is a mention of themes of ‘fatherhood, migration and globalisation’ in the press release. Is there a particular relationship between these three themes (I can see how the last two are clearly related…) that the script aims to explore?
Speaking on the theme of Fatherhood I think the play effectively conveys all sides of this coin for example, in one scene there is a young man, Fifi, who has recently become a father for the first time. He feels ill equipped and out of his depth. He asks his elder barber for advice, speaking his deepest, most private thoughts in the hope of some advice and guidance. This is one of the broader more relatable topics discussed.

Another example can be seen in a character I play called Simphiwe. This is a man who lives in South Africa. His wife and child live in the UK, and he has been estranged from them for over ten years due to his alcoholism. He can’t bear the separation between his family and him and struggles to put himself and the fragments of his life together. In this storyline, the complexities of fatherhood and the effects migration and colonisation are revealed and hopefully will get the audience thinking.
I feel the play aims to shed light on these themes and bring them to the forefront played out on the main stage.

QUESTION FIVE: David Greig talks about Inua as ‘one of today’s most exciting voices in poetry and theatre’. Do you find performing the script draws out that poetic element, and what is the experience of performing a script that comes from a poetic artist?
The simple definition of Poetry is that it is a type of literature or artistic writing that attempts to stir a reader’s imagination or emotions. That is exactly what this play does and Inua is particularly gifted at this. The audience react when they see this play, from people shouting out during particular scenes, to spontaneous applause. The play feels alive and interactive, I always get the sense that audiences feel intrinsically a part of the show. I think Inua’s writing possesses the right balance of comedy and seriousness, the audience are never allowed to completely relax and are constantly surprised which is why, in my humble opinion, it works so well.
We can’t wait to bring the show up North and I hope that the people of this beautiful city will join us in what will be a fun, joyous, and at times riotous event.

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