Highlight Nation Talk Trims, Male Gossip and Barber Shop Chronicles
By Anton Constantinou and Sumit Rehal
Here at Highlight Nation, we like to stay looking our best. Which means wearing the right clothes, rocking top colognes and, every once in a while, paying a visit to the barber shop.
Ah, barbers: the holy grail of male grooming. The place men go to keep their hair in check. For generations, we’ve been visiting them for shaves and trims – staring blankly into mirrors as unwanted fluff settles on our shoulders. Our grandfathers swear by them, so too do our dads, and even we as sons confess to loving them.
So imagine our joy a discovering a play dedicated entirely to the barber shop experience. That’s right – Barber Shop Chronicles, which is currently on show at London’s National Theatre, offers global context to an activity which many of us simply take for granted. In a production spanning six cities over the course of one day, viewers get a glimpse into the politics behind the shape-up.
Here’s what we thought of it:
Anton: I must say, Barber Shop Chronicles really opened up my mind to the liberation and self- expression that comes with a simple haircut. What was your main takeaway from the night?
Sumit: I’m actually surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I didn’t know what to expect as I’ve never been to a non-musical theatre performance before. The story progressed so smoothly by the end of it and I’m still moved. How about you?
Anton: I was particularly moved by some of the acting. Would you say it’s true to the behaviour you’ve seen in barbershops?
Sumit: Oh for sure, the London based barber shop in the show was a lot like a few that I’ve been to in Croydon. When I used to go to Darren Jonathan, when it first opened, sometimes we would be there for hours as there was only two members of staff and we would chat about all sorts all day!
How about your experience of barber shops?
Anton: Ironically, I don’t talk to my barber much. Even though I generally tend to see the same guy. It’s mainly small talk. What sort of chats do you tend to have with yours?
Sumit: Now when I go to the barbers, we mainly always talk about football. Football was also a major theme in the show, no matter what country the setting was in. I have a universal theory that you can instantly make small talk with any man in the world about either football or cars. If they don’t like football, then they like cars.
Anton: Haha, that’s so true. Either you’re petrolhead or a wannabe pundit! There’s a lot to be said for the way men get stuff off their chest in barbers. Something about receiving a trim just makes you wanna start talking. I guess when you’re being made to look your best, you can’t help but start piping up. That said, there’s definitely certain settings where I feel uncomfortable being openly emotional. In your opinion, what steps can be taken to creating similar spaces for men to express themselves?
Sumit: I think if you’re seeing the same barber over again and again, you’ll see him just as much as your mates and the trust grows over the months. For many men, the barber shop is their equivalent of a pub. The clients being the punters and the barber being the barman.
Anton: Good shout! Even to this day, I get my haircut at least twice a month. It’s a bit of an addiction. What about you?
Sumit: Back in my teens I used to get the proper skin fade and sharp borders, which required fortnightly maintenance. Nowadays, my style has changed to a more natural look and I only get my haircut every two months. Trying to make the most of my hair before it falls out!
Anton: Oh shut up, you old man! Coming back to the play, I love how cyclical it was, and also how some of the diverging stories were brought together. Do you feel those elements made it more or less realistic?
Sumit: It was amazing to see the whole thing come together towards the end. It managed to emphasise how no matter what your culture, ethnicity, race or status is, men around the world all have a common ground.
Anton: Hmm. What was your favourite part of the play?
Sumit: I don’t want to give any spoilers away, but the emotional speech with the man from South Africa hit home. The acting was absolutely out of this world and was totally relatable.
How about yours, what did you take most from it?
Anton: I actually loved the opening scene, where that old barber receives a knock at the door at 6am, thinking it’s an emergency, only to discover that it’s a customer in desperate need of a haircut before a job interview. The lengths people go to to look good will never cease to amaze me! Did the play take you by surprise, much?
Sumit: This was the first theatre that I’ve been to that’s not a Broadway musical, however I liked how they had a little musical touch between transitions. Have you been to any like this before and, if so, how does it compare?
Anton: Not to memory. The Woman In Black, as I recall, is similarly performed small stage, and uses a limited number of props, but the stories are incomparable.
The first thing that sprang to mind when I saw Barber Shop Chronicles is the movie Barbershop, or the 90s UK sitcom, Desmond’s – which was set in a barbers in Peckham.
Sumit: Love the Barbershop film franchise! You mentioned that you were surprised with how diverse the crowd was, what was so surprising by it and why do you think that was the case?
Anton: I dunno. Call me narrow minded, but I’ve always looked at barber shops as the preserve of brown and black people – probably because that’s the stereotype that gets pushed out. Also, most of the barber’s I’ve had down the years have either been black or Arabic. Seeing women in the crowd definitely took me surprise. I thought myself: that’s like a guy tuning in to watch the movie, Hairspray. Given how intuitively linked barber shops are to the black experience, I felt certain the audience would reflect. But, hey, I guess people read great reviews about it and thought they’d see what all the fuss was about!