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Edinburgh Fringe 2009

Barbershopera II

Barbershopera – Festival Highlights



Low Down

Bravado, bouffant hair, tears, tragedy and stampeding hairy bovines – all in perfect four part harmony – in the story of a Catalan matador who inherits his father’s barbershop in Shavingham-by-the-Sea, Norfolk.


Co-writers Rob Castell and Tom Sadler and director Sarah Tipple have pulled it off again with another madcap, but perfectly harmonious, tale. Last year it was about a quartet trying to win a barbershop singing contest. This time it centres on Estebe, a Catalan matador returning to Shavingham to inherit his father’s barbershop. Our hero faces the challenge of winning the hearts of the tight knit rural Norfolk community where everyone turns out to be family – literally. Can he thwart the dastardly intentions of Trevor Sorbet, hell bent on acquiring the vacant barbers to create the biggest unisex salon in….well, Norfolk? And can Estebe win the heart of the town crier and seal fancier, Vicky?

The wonderfully absurdist plot acts as a conduit for a series of flowing melodies, tightly choregraphed dances, neat verbal links and the long awaited, world premiere of the “Norfolk Dance”, a version of Morris dancing where recorders and bottom slapping replace the traditional bells and longswords.   The plot twists and turns like the hairpin bends on a Catalan mountain trail as our matador hero engages Trevor Sorbet in a cut off for the right to own the barbershop, wins, then loses all, faces exile from Shavingham, returns to fight off a herd of stampeding cows turned hairy through ingesting Trevor Sorbet’s magical hair tonic and finally saves the town from the evil coiffeur’s plans. Mortally wounded in his successful slaying of the enemy, our hero passes from us with full opera death bed aria honours.
Most stage performances require performers to act, sing or dance. Rarely, these days, do you see a troupe attempt to do all three things simultaneously and in this case without any musical accompaniment. I lost count of the musical genres on display but detected rock, hip hop, rap, folk, patter in true G&S style and opera (Carmen like you’ve never heard it before). The seamless transition from one style to another was impressive, as was the choreography including, at one point, a full scale “bull fight” on what is quite a tight stage. 
But what really sets this quartet apart from the crowd is the quality of their singing. Diction was perfect, nothing of the cleverly written dialogue was lost in this helter skelter of a story. The combination of soprano (Lara Stubbs), two tenors (newcomer Pete Sorel-Cameron and Rob Castell) and bass (Tom Sadler) creates a captivating barbershop harmony sound. Holding this together for an hour long show requires technique and talent, which this team has in abundance. Grab the bull by the horns and get yourself over to Shavingham-by-the-Sea to witness this close cropped quartet.