The Barbershop Chronicles by Inua Ellams is a wonderful journey into African barbershops, both in Africa and the UK. It is a playful, joyful piece of drama, which despite its light touch, also illuminates several serious issues concerning the African community today, not least the question of masculinity.
Set in one of London's poorer districts, Peckham, the play begins with a young African desperate for a haircut, arriving at the barbershop after closing hours. Pleading that he has an important job interview the following morning, he finally manages to persuade the very reluctant barber, preparing for bed, to cut his hair.
During the haircut, they begin to chat about the state of life in London today. The barber claims that his shop is a beacon of the community, a place where black men, despite their different economic circumstances, can meet and freely talk about whatever is important in their lives. The conversation, often witty, touches on issues of race, gender, aspirations and nostalgia for the home continent.
The setting then changes to Africa. We are taken on a journey to several African cities -Johannesburg, Accra, Lagos, Kampala and Harare. The action in each "city" takes place in barber shops--the traditional venue for gossip, discussions and debates.
In "Harare", the barber and his customers discuss--what else? Robert Mugabe and his effects on life, both positive and negative. In "Lagos", the conversation centres around the extreme wealth and poverty in the city; In "Johannesburg" the conversation looks at the sacrifices of the older generations to end apartheid and contrasts this with the present with one character insisting that if Winnie Mandela had ledthe country, things would have been very different. Similarly, current topics in Kampala and Accra are also aired.
Perhaps the most important theme the play examines is the complex relationship between...