The Return of Accents

No sooner had my written my post on English accents in a performance of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia than I went to a play here in Cambridge, called Barber Shop Chronicles, by Inua Ellams, a relatively young Nigerian-born British writer and performer.

One of the three angles of view

One of the three angles of view

It's fun, with scenes in a variety of barber shops across Africa, with one in London where emigre Africans hang out. The actors are all black men, have great voices, and know how to move, and even how to sit in an interesting way. It's tremendous fun.

And they have accents of their place of origin, some stronger than others. S, one of my long-time theater companions said she had to retune her ear, the same way she does with Shakespeare, before it made sense to her.

In this case, the accents are essential, not accidental. These are specific people, each from a specific place, and their voices show it.

One charming bit of business was that each man, when the haircut was done, got three views of the result. The barber had a decent size mirror that he would hold first to show a left view, then behind so the client could look in the big mirror (us, the audience), and then a right view. Each client examined himself carefully before giving approval. I usually just glance in the mirror, see that my haircut looks as it always does, and that's it. I'm clearly not taking this seriously enough.

They argue politics, talk about women, bitch about white people, and discuss sports, because the same soccer match is on in every barber shop for most of the first hour of the play. There is a bit of a plot, a personal conflict among the family running the London barber shop, but it's not that relevant, and I could have done without it. Interestingly, there weren't any pairs of men who were close personal friends. Men did like each other, but boastful camaraderie was as close as they got to friendship. I don't think anyone would write a play about women in beauty salons where there were no intimate friends.

It's two hours, without intermission, and the time zipped by, so I would recommend it, if you can get to Cambridge, Massachusetts before January 5, 2019.

What's your favorite play that focuses on the rhythm and music of speech?

And that sounds like real speech? I think that was what impressed me the most.