Issue 297
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INT. A Barbershop in Digbeth — Daytime

Actor, Anthony, is having his hair cut by barber and patron, Ben. They're discussing Barber Shop Chronicles a production Anthony stars in, which arrives at The Rep later this month. Anthony is sat by Tom, a journalist. Barber and co-owner, Ethan, is cutting Tom's hair. Tom's not said a word for a full fifteen minutes. He hasn't needed to. The two barbers are doing his job for him — they're interviewing Anthony. Of course, they wouldn't call it 'interviewing', they'd call it chatting to a customer. And Anthony wouldn't describe this as being interviewed, he'd call it having his hair cut... 
So the play is set across various barber shops, five in African countries and one in Peckham, where my character works. It’s about the life, love and loss of the barbers and their customers. Throughout the production the story unfolds, weaving from one barber shop to another — cross-pollinating — and culminating in a strong, thumping, actually really rather extraordinary revelation at the end.

Not sure I’ve ever spoken to my barber about life, loss or love.

In predominantly black barber shops, it absolutely does happen. As a kid I grew up in East London and visited a barber shop regularly where it was incredibly educational to listen to older men talking about vulnerabilities that you don’t normally hear about.  
Black or African barber shops spend much more time on each customer than those that serve predominantly white or European guys. It’s a longer process and so naturally it becomes more of an event.

Exactly. It’s a place where men don’t have to filter their existence. There’s someone there to listen to you, the barber. They can advise and give counsel, in fact, there was a programme by which barbers were trained as councillors. Because it was seen that there was a need for that. And people were — still are — using barbers as a confession box, a cry for help.

Ethan and I are actually going on a course to learn how to assist customers who are struggling with life. It happens a lot — more than you’d think — and we want to learn the right ways to help. What to say and what not to say. Ethan recently had a customer suggesting he was having suicidal thoughts. Ethan’s a clever guy and he handled it brilliantly, but it made us both realise we don’t know, for sure, the correct process — for want of a better phrase — in that situation.

Really? I dare say Ethan may have saved a man’s life that day.

I think you’re right. It’s a trust thing. A customer is already trusting you with their hair, and that paves the path for trust on a more personal level. We’re not going to judge. Just listen.

And often it’s a relationship that you forge over a long period. If you have three haircuts in a row with the same barber, you’re likely to have built up loyalty to them. That loyalty can last a lifetime and it may transfer to the kids. I find myself cutting generations of hair. Watching kids grow up, man! It’s no surprise that trust grows too.

You know that saying, 'it takes a village to raise a child'? It applies here.

Absolutely. In the show there are 12 black actors playing 33 characters, and a number of the cast have told me that they have a better relationship with their barber than members of their own family. Because of those years of association.
Some people will come in and close up. They’ll read or will talk about the weather, plans for the weekend, but more often than not you actually learn about the person who’s sat in front of you.

That’s my favourite bit of the job. Learning what makes the customer tick. You hear about their work life and often their whole body language cages inward. You can tell they don’t want to talk about it. But then the conversation will turn to, oh I don’t know, mountain biking, and the customer's eyes come alive. Everyone has something that makes them tick, right? And when I work out what it is, I could listen to them talk about it for hours.

How long have you guys been cutting hair?

I’ve been doing it for 30 years. I started working in a barber when I was 13, sweeping floors. Thirty years, man. But you’re always learning. Barbering has changed a huge amount in the last decade. There are things you don’t see coming, like Instagram, that change the landscape of the business. People see cuts from other walks of life and they come in asking for it.

Instagram’s a double-edged sword, though. On the one hand, it improves our business, people want to look great and to show that look on social media, but on the other hand, I worry that we’ve forgotten how to communicate in person. So here, at Stag, we’re trying to recreate that old school barber shop way. People come and go, they hang around and buy a coffee, sit with us and chat whether they’re having a cut or not.

And that’s exactly what the play’s about. Barber shops as a sanctuary. A place where you have a sense of belonging. Where you feel safe to talk. There aren't enough places like that, places where men, in particular, feel safe to talk about their problems.   

Like a pub without alcohol?

Yeah, a church without god. Men struggle for places to go to be able to talk about their concerns. It's a huge problem in male culture and a huge mental health issue in black culture, too. One onto which the spotlight is slowly shifting. And places like this one provide that safe space — in the show you get a glimpse of six more, that demonstrate the sheer power of the barber shop.  
Anthony Ofoegbu appears in Barber Shop Chronicles at The Rep, September 26 to 28. Tickets (from £15). The awesome Stag Barbers is based in the Custard Factory.


Now we've re-entered the world of office hours, laptops and learning, Birmingham Heritage Week's got all the lesson plans when it comes to B-Town, with over 70 events across 200 sites, starting today. Whether you get drowned in sound as steam-driven beam engines provide an immersive soundscape in St Paul's Church (tickets, £12), or wander the halls of 19th century BMAG virtually (free), or do a good old fashioned pub quiz with Roundhouse history group at The Distillery, it’s looking like a something-for-everyone sort of programme. We'll be beeing and lining to Stuart Whipps’ latest project at Ikon. Taking its name from an episode of Fawlty Towers (strangely, not the one where Cleese gives his motor a damn, good thrashing) The Kipper and the Corpse sees the artist reflect on the closure of the last British owned volume car manufacturer, over in Longbridge, attempting the complete restoration of a 1979 Mini, with the help of former British Leyland workers. The retro imagery and of-the-time accompanying text will have you thinking about our heritage and, dare we say it, our future. Until September 15, entry is free.


Chef Tristan Welch trained under Michel Roux Jnr and Gary Rhodes at Le Gavroche, before taking up the role of Head Chef at Gordon Ramsay's Petrus. Unless you know something we don't, you can't go back in time and experience any of those things. But you can join Chef for a one-off Brum supper club, including four-courses, a cocktail and even a lift home. Expect a French-focussed carte, with scallops, sole meunière and slow-roasted duck all featuring. Up to a ten mile-radius, DS Automobiles will even chauffeur you to and from the event as part of your £50 spot. On September 19 in Harvey Nichols' PDR, supper is limited to 20 people. Book instantly here, or call/email and there's no booking fee but it might sell out...


Once you get over the discomfort of seeing a parent and porn in the same sentence, My Dad Wrote a Porno only gets more red-cheek inducing and belly-jiggling. The podcast is officially mahoosive, which is a technical term for shows hitting over 180m downloads and the team of three pals has once more set its sights on embarrassing us all in real-life with a world tour. Join Jamie Morton and co as they read never-before-heard material by his Dad, Rocky Flintstone, as they get even further into the Belinda Blinked saga, which is as gloriously grubby as it sounds. Proclaimed the “best/worst erotica ever written,” you’ll be dodging your parents’ gaze for years to come. On September 27, 2020 (not a typo), tickets are from £38.


We laughed, we cried and we asked a fellow audience member to please stop clicking his pen — that's how into Birmingham Royal Ballet's first triple bill of the year we got. The format's all sorts of ace for the relative ballet novice because you get three short, sharp productions that contrast in style, so there'll be at least one that gets you like we never could. And you pay for one ticket (from £14), so that's nice. For the autumn triple, Ballet Black is filling one of the three spots with its performance of National-Dance-Award-winning The Suit in the company's first collab with BRB. You'll also get to see a complete newbie, from choreographer and Queensland Ballet dancer Jack Lister, plus Ol' Blue Eyes inspired Nine Sinatra Songs. At the Hippodrome from Sept 19 to 21, just leave you pen at the office. More


If you think modern comedy has got too soft, safe and liberal, we’ve got two words: Geoff Norcott. The stand-up “came out” as Conservative several years ago, claiming to be one of the few openly Tory acts on the circuit. The results? Unsurprisingly, not everyone in the room agrees with Geoff's politics or the points he's making. Yet only a fool would question the man’s ability to make a room rock with laughter. TV and radio have taken a keen interest (thereby torpedoing the notion that you only get left-wing comedy on telly these days), with Geoff shining on the likes of The Mash Report, Live At The Apollo, Mock The Week and beyond. Heck, he even had his own hit Beeb doc. See what all the fuss is about at Glee on Sept 29. See also one of the few Tories whose stock is only going higher in the coming months... Tickets (£13.50)
Venue: Şımarık at Cork & Cage, 1373 Pershore Road, B30 2JR; website
Choice: Nenemin (£7.80) Chooser: Chef Rami

This week's you choose is a story of two seasons, brought to you by a Stirchley spot better known for its constantly rotating selection of beer, than for its food. Out back at Cork & Cage, chef Rami is banging out plate after plate of well-priced Turkish tastes, that are a little bit perfect for mid-week-forgot-to-go-to-the-supermarket syndrome (which is a thing). Share dips like fasulye eszme (£5.40), a crushed bean and tahini creation that comes with a puffed up unleavened flatbread for scooping purposes, like the majority of the starters. And for bright, light end of summer sort of days, be sure to get your chompers around the cevizli patlican (£6), a vegan-friendly creation of mashed aubergine, delicately flavoured with plenty of spices and textured up with walnuts and caramelised onions — an ever so close second for the win. But it was the autumn is coming nenemin, which gets our considered vote for this week. A lot like a cottage pie, think layers of potatoes, mince and veggies, baked in the oven, but with subtle spices and refreshingly bold seasoning that lets you know the recipe is based on a dish chef's grandma used to make. Less heavy than the British equivalent but still as comforting as an early night with a hot water bottle. On bevs, we'd tell you what beers to match with your dinns but even mid-order two of the ten beers on tap changed. The good news is, they all tasted right proper nice. Walk-ins only. 
CluedUpp is back Brum-side with its latest live murder mystery, on November 9 and this time taking inspo from those pesky Kray twins. It's £36 for a team of up to six.
Have a gander round one of our top spots in Brum, the Museums Collection Centre, where everything that isn't on display in the city's museums is stored and you get to feel like Indiana Jones. There's a rare open day on September 22 and entry is free.
Eking absolutely everything they can out of the season, St Paul's is having a summer fête this weekend on the square. Pick up a picnic or opt for food trucks for your sustenance, the weather is actually looking quite nice.
Under 30 and fancy a free singing lesson through Birmingham Opera Company? So no pressure then. On October 6, here are the deets.
Harborne's Sadler's pop up has closed. Boo. Brewer’s Social Harborne is to open on September 27. Yay! The permanent all-day venue from the brewery will do everything from brunch to BBQ. And beer. Plenty of beer.

"There's things people say in the barber shop they won't even say in their own living room, because it's just one of those zones where nobody's going to judge you about your dumb-ass opinion."

Ice Cube

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WORDS: Tom Cullen, Katy Drohan, Robb Sheppard, James Gill

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