Review of the Barbershop Chronicles
Playing at The Bristol Old Vic until May 18th
Lydia Latham MacQueen
I have known most of my life that the men’s barber is a sacred place….rather like a secret society. Occasionally though, I would forget, like the time when I walked into the St Marks Road barbershop in Easton with my nine year old son to get his hair cut. This iconic barber shop had a reputation that stretched far and wide from Bristol to beyond and was recommended by everyone. It was simply the best barbershop for miles around. I was taking my son there for one of his first proper haircuts. His friends had gotten their hair cut there.
When we walked in the shop just seconds ago where there had been a raucous atmosphere, with lively laughter and intense conversation, it slowly went dead silent. All the barbers and customers turned and stared at me for what felt looked like long time. Then one of the men asked, as if I was lost, “can I help you?” With them all still staring at me, I told him I was there for my son to get a haircut. He said, “sit him down over there and he’ll be done in about half hour”. So I went over to the sitting area and squeezed in to sit down between all the other male customers waiting. The atmosphere continued to be subdued and quiet for a couple of minutes. At one point I’m sure boss barber noticed me glancing around the shop, my face looking disapprovingly at the semi-pornographic film that was on the TV attached on the wall and the posters of scantily clad Pin Up girls around the shop. “Lady” he says in a more commanding voice, “why don’t you just leave the boy here and come back half hour”. “Leave him here?” I asked as if it were a den of sin!
He said, “Yes, he’ll be alright!” So as I got up to leave I whispered to my son, ”Rory don’t look at the TV! read you book.”
When I came back into the shop later, the barber walked briskly over to take payment, in order, I felt, to get me out of there as quickly as possible. I had been a disruption to their world for just being there. On the way home, my son expressed how happy he was with his haircut and he told me that his barber talked football with him the whole time. Football was my son’s passion at the time.
It was this experience that I now reminisce with amusement when I saw this heartwarming and insightful production of The Barber Shop Chronicles recently at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre. Beautifully Directed by Bijan Shibani, this play welcomes you into that scared world that is the black barber shop. This is a fun and exuberant play set in a barbershop that leaps to several African countries, ending up back in Peckham, London. We get to see men being men, free to talk openly and honestly, sharing, testifying, confessing and clowning around. Women and certain others are not meant to be there. The atmosphere is sizzling, with various subjects talked about; engaging the audience completely. You hear them heatedly discussing, bantering and bragging about everything from politics, family relationships, exaggerated sexual conquests to …. Football.
The actors are excellent and performances strongly show the freedom, safety and the brotherhood that these men share in this special environment supporting one another other in their own space! This is a place where you can get your cut and reaffirm your identity. This play is on until May 18th. Everyone can see this play… It was very entertaining, joyous and insightful. I loved it!