Pumping music greets the audience members who file into the Seymour Centre’s York Theatre for Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles, in town for the Sydney Festival before it heads to Perth next month. The stage, littered with barber’s chairs and lounges, is bustling with people dancing, chatting, taking selfies and getting their hair cut. Audience members mingle with actors – they are plucked from their seats for a free stage haircut – in a fluid mass of people, a party atmosphere that has the crowd well and truly warmed up before the first lines of the play are spoken.

Barber Shop Chronicles, which was co-commissioned by Fuel and the National Theatre, premiering at the Dorfman Theatre in London last year, is set in six barber shops – in Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos, Accra and London – where men gather to talk, argue, unwind and, of course, get their hair cut.

Barber Shop Chronicles Barber Shop Chronicles at the Sydney Festival. Photo © Prudence Upton

A poet, performer, graphic artist and designer, Nigerian-born British playwright Ellams drew on interviews and field research conducted in barber shops across London and Africa, speaking to African men about...