Tom Moutchi and Micah Balfour in Barber Shop Chronicles (c) Marc Brenner

There is an immediate immersion into the world of Barber Shop Chronicles as soon as you step into the Oxford Playhouse auditorium, the cast greeting us on stage with dancing, singing and joy.

There were some impressive dance moves, banter and laughter, but more than anything it was the sheer energy that set the scene for what was to come.

we learn more about each of these countries and their political and social situations than from any newspaper, because this is where it all goes down.

Yes we knew of Barber Shop Chronicles’ reputation, recently named one of the top 50 theatre shows of the 21st century by The Guardian, and it was sold out on the first night, yesterday.

We also knew that the play would pan out around the world, as we swept from Afro-Carribean barber shops in Harare, Zimbabwe and Peckham to Accra in Ghana and Lagos in Nigeria.

Directed by Olivier award-winning Bijan Sheibani we meet the different characters congregating in these male bastions to have their hair cut, shaved, trimmed and faded while chatting, sharing and gathering.

And it is the chatting that has set this seismic show on fire – men on men, chewing the cud, talking politics, domesticity, families, work, strains and stresses, finances…

Each barber shop provides a stage within a stage from where the players can strut, posture, annoy, cry, laugh, admit and listen.

And so we learn more about each of the countries and their political and social situations than from any newspaper, because this is where it all goes down.

And it’s all about the men, black men, which was refreshing – playing to a predominantly white audience, ditto.

When I interviewed Micah Balfour, he said that’s how the black cast likes it, that Barber Shop Chronicles offers the best opportunity, regardless of colour, creed, nationality or status, to show how much more we all have in common than we might think.


So across the discussions about Mugabe in Harare, Mandela in Cape Town and Pidgin English in Lagos, a story begins to unfold, of immigration and motherlands, of fathers and sons separated by borders and prospects, of the social divide between the first world and the third, and of racism. Any accent difficulties were solved by a screen of the dialogue.

More than that it was about the wonderful trivialities of life  – why African kids were more disciplined, why Western kids less so, how to bring up your children, secure a wife, get a job.

It was about their futures, their pasts and their memories, all framed by music and dance, each country introduced by a recognisably authentic score.

So yes, issues were solved, points made, explanations given, arguments flared, stories told, but more than anything this was a snapshot in time, an insight into the lives of men all over the world and our incontestable relationship to them here in the UK.

But more than that it was about the inextricable link to our history, culture, family and friends, communities and how that shapes us.

Oh and did I mention Chelsea?  Thanks to football it seems we all have a common bond. And at the moment those bonds and links are more important than ever.

The Barber Shop Chronicles runs at Oxford Playhouse until Saturday. or 01865 305305

Katherine MacAlister


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