“IT’S about to get peak”, exclaimed wide-smiled actor Jazzie Zonzolo , with his gold tooth gleaming under the Festival Pavilion lights.
Unlike the reported wistfulness and pretention of other shows on the MIF programme, Youtube sitcom-turned- play, Smokey’s Barbers, was comparatively a more let down your hair, kick off your shoes and do the ‘Azonto’ affair.
Depending on your personal sense of humour gauge, Smokey’s Barbers will at the very least tickle your ribs.
Encouraging the audience to shout “Shabba” and other catchphrases, it was even clearer it was not a sit back and fan yourself with your festival programme sorta-show.
Smokey’s Barbers required audience participation. You may even get pointed out from your seat.
For that reason I cowered in the shadows and fixed my hair.
In case you were wondering, (and perhaps you weren’t), ‘peak’, according to London’s ‘street’ vernacular, can mean bad luck, pending stress, an embarrassment and other similar synonyms. Confusingly it can also mean an excellent or top quality situation/object/event/person. Not that you would have to spend the entire show flipping through an urban dictionary, mind you. No, Smokey’s Barbers doesn’t allow you to get too lost in translation.
The barbershop online sitcom brought to Manchester International Festival by London’s golden boy entrepreneur and Richard Branson’s mate, Jamal Edwards, has been re-created for the MIF stage and a tad watered down into a pantomime performance to ease the palettes of the festival audience.
Much like Jamal Edwards’ own online uprising with SB:TV, Smokey’s Barbers started on video-sharing site Youtube, and is the brainchild of the show’s leading actor and comedian, Jazzie Zonzolo, who starred in urban-centred hit movie, Anuvahood. Drumming up on average 300,000 views per video, Smokey’s Barbers built enough gravitas to join Edwards’ London underground invasion of the Manchester International Festival line-up.
Could Smokey’s Barbers be the Desmond’s of 2013? Remember Channel 4’s popular barbershop sitcom of the late 80s, early 90s and the comical character Pork-Pie? You should, but if you don’t, think Peckham, multiculturalism and canned laughter.
Revamped for today’s youngsters, gone is Desmond’s and enter Smokey’s Barbers with a similar running theme: exaggerated, yet familiar London borough stereotypes, joke-slinging and not much cutting hair.
I’m told that’s not dissimilar from real life. Even down to the dude that seems to stay in barbershop all day, for no real reason. After all, Smokey’s Barbers is a real-life barbershop and the characters are based on local legends that pass through its doors. Comedian Adot plays exasperated Ghanaian boss, Uncle Adot, Jazzie’s the lovable rogue, A–Squeezy is a wise-cracker and helium high-pitched voiced, Humza, is the said guy with nowhere else to go.
Barbershops are typically where men go to be ‘men’. It’s not just about getting a shape-up. It’s where guys feel at home to chat about girls, dodge ‘roadmen’, ‘catch joke’, ‘banter’ and talk more about girls.
With Smokey’s Barbers, we venture into a male-only territory and calmly leave all political correctness at the door. The result is a loud and chaotic theatrical performance, with what seemed like a lot of off-the-top improv’.
Also, there’s no real narrative, so theatre purists shouldn’t go expecting to see a discernible beginning, middle and end. There wasn’t any real jeopardy either and it stayed true to its original day-in-the-life, ‘mockumentary’ style.
But it was funny. I laughed. Out loud. Genuinely, not digitally.
It’s a juvenile sort-of funny, sure. Smokey’s Barbers has a playground humour that consists of piss-taking, mimicking and male bravado – yet some really witty moments that sent one dude at the back howling from the pit of his gut. Depending on your own sense of humour gauge, Smokey’s Barbers will at the very least tickle your ribs.
Refreshingly, apart from a few bleeding heads from a dodgy trim, no young person dies from an untimely death – which tends to be the usual clichéd storyline for gritty urban dramas. More than aware of that, Smokey’s Barbers sticks to just making us laugh.
Goad me if you like for not wanting yet another grim doom-and-gloom inner-city reality piece of entertainment, this comedy is a delightful and upbeat change.
It was all over very quickly, abruptly in fact, and without revealing all, bizarrely. Whilst it was longer than the average Youtube episode, it wasn’t long enough for you to really get into it unfortunately with the audience left longing for a few more jokes. That side-splitting, belly laugh is definitely not out of reach with these actors, if only they carried on a little longer. Yet, it’s always a good sign if the people want more, right?
Of course, Smokey’s Barbers will mostly appeal to the under-25s and the Channel AKA demographic, which is by no means a bad thing. That’s Jamal’s target audience after all, but as we all know, he is certainly not limited to it. British urban culture has gradually transcended entertainment platforms and British comedy theatre just seems like a natural and welcome progression.
Plus it’s nice to not to have to watch everything on a screen for a change.
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Smokey’s Barbers is one of three shows from the Jamal Edwards Presents line-up at the Manchester International Festival. See here for ticket information.
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