Barber Shop Chronicles at the National Theatre received 4.2-star average pro reviews, with two fives and all others so far awarding fours. Fiona Mountford (Evening Standard) found Inua Ellams‘ “all-male, all-black piece… bounces with brio as it whisks us around a series of African barber shops… with a shop in Peckham acting as the central pivot”. Matt Trueman (What’s On Stage) described a “roving play” which “reminds us of the sheer cultural diversity wrapped up in blackness” by “opening up a closed space”. Claire Allfree (Telegraph) admired “an instinctive feel for the polyphonous rhythms of dialogue” and saw ”the way his characters use language” as “both a texture and a theme”. Mountford saw “hefty topics ripple and re-echo over the thousands of miles… how to be a father, how to be a son, how to be a man”. Natasha Tripney (The Stage) found it “crammed with questions” as “idea follows idea” and the tone shifts “fluidly from comedy to poignancy to rage”. Allfree suggested “only slowly do individual relationships become distinct and characters gain depth and pathos” but admired “a show full of sadness and great joy”.
She found “to walk into the auditorium… is to walk into a space teeming with life… instantly, compulsively convivial” and Tripney enjoyed these “first, second, third and fourth-wall breaking antics”. Allfree admired the “muscular flair” of Bijan Sheibani’s direction and Tripney saw issues “handled with skill and a huge amount of warmth”. Trueman felt his production “draws its energy” from the “moving” fact that “the cast have skin in the game”. Mountford identified “occasional moments of grandstanding rather than storytelling” but found it “vivid and energetic”. Trueman enjoyed Aline David’s “explosive, expressive choreography” and Tripney hailed “some of the liveliest between-scene dance sequences around”. Mounford felt it “sparkles most brightly” in these “precious… little fragments of interlinking action”.
Allfree described a “crack cast” and Tripney praised their “agility”. Trueman, describing “a play that makes its points through acting”, saw them “swap… with relish” between “all these individuals with their own mannerisms and tics, their own styles and modes of speech” yet remain “absolutely an ensemble”.
Tripney, identifying the “prickly relationship” between Fisayo Akinade’s Samuel and Cyril Nri’s Emmanuel in London as “the thread that connects these narrative fragments” said: “While both are superb, Nri delivers a performance of containment and grace among other showier turns”. Trueman saw them “instilling its emotional heart”. He also admired Peter Bankolé and Hammed Animashaun for “real comic flair” and Tripney highlighted Patrice Naiambana, who “shoulders loaded with regret, delivers a particularly wrenching and difficult speech”.
Tripney summed up “both a fascinating peek into a world of men and a wider act of celebration”. She hailed “rich, exhilarating theatre” and found “the level of joy in the room is high”. Allfree enjoyed “the sinewy pulse and lissom beauty of Sheibani’s production, which throbs with energy and heat”. Mountford concluded: “Make an appointment.”
Booking to 8 Jul 2017 with tickets still available from the NT’s website. And for more exciting new writing contemplating questions of black identity, don’t miss An Octoroon.