Barbershopera II, Trafalgar Studios, London

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The Independent Culture

A matador inherits his father's barbershop in Norfolk but his sole aim while in England is to collect a pair of golden scissors before returning to his mother in Spain.

But, of course, the cut of his path is not straight and he is tangled up in both a love affair and in the affairs of a villainous hairdresser who is responsible for his father's death and the fate of a not inconsiderable number of livestock.

Barbershopera II's plot resembles something that might be generated in an improvised show, an extreme take on opera. But this brassy quartet of musical-comedy performers is fortunately able to put body into what seems, initially, a limp premise. The a cappella troupe trill and do-wop their way through the yarn, bolstering the audience's belief in it, and in their characters, by playing things very close to straight at times. Minor-key shanties that push the story along are less fertile for humour, for example, than a more jaunty number that lists hairdressing tasks to the tune of popular songs, "purple rinse, purple rinse" being one such task.

Restraint is shown in the group's decision not to corpse, or adopt knowing looks or postures after choice lines are delivered (one example is when the hero, Esteve, is dejected and looks as if he is going to jump off a cliff; another character warns: "If you take one more step you'll be... in Suffolk"). Meanwhile, in keeping with the tone of "controlled irreverence", puns are kept to a minimum; one exception has the father of the evil hairdresser, Trevor Sorbet, described as a "fridge magnate."

Inevitably, the policy of not milking every line for comic effect maintains the show's integrity while the laugh count suffers. Nevertheless, while the ever-present harmonising further overpowers some of the humorous potential of lines and lyrics, the performances show great gusto and ultimately power through. Moreover there are some pleasing and inventive flourishes, such as Esteve being schooled in hairdressing via the skills of milking, bell-ringing and massage.

While initially the plot's pace and the dynamics of the performances seem out of kilter, with plenty of information to be imparted and a slightly saggy pace carrying that information, proceedings settle in for what is a solid romp, not quite "trilling" or "hair-raising" but certainly smart and stylish.

Touring, see barbershopera.com for dates

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