Barbershopera II is written by company founders Rob Castell and Tom Sadler who perform it, alongside Lara Stubbs and Pete Sorel-Cameron in the shape of a comedy barbershop quartet. The plot, insomuch as it is important, concerns a Catalan matador Esteve who inherits a barber shop in Norfolk from his long-lost father but faces opposition from hostile locals and his hairdressing rival, Trevor Sorbet. There’s then an insane amount of twists and turns which get increasingly daft and surreal. The main twist though is that it’s performed in different harmony groupings throughout (though rarely as a barbershop quartet interestingly enough).
The show really caught light for me with a brilliant medley of songs during the hairdressing competition which skillfully wove in a whole raft of jokes, both visual and lyrical through five completely different styles in quick succession. Lyrically, the songs are excellent throughout, always provoking laughter, but it is sometimes hard to escape the feeling that this is one (albeit excellent) trick that is drawn out for too long.
There’s no doubting the impressive vocal skills on display here and it almost seems churlish to criticise given the workrate, but hard work alone isn’t enough. Production values are perilously, shabbily low, the tunes just aren’t memorable enough, and there isn’t enough genuine quartet singing which minimises the genuine impact that the barbershop style has to offer. With such a surreal story that doesn’t engage one emotionally, there’s only so long one can admire good singing and sadly one ends up feeling a bit blase, despite the technical expertise on show.
Aside from the lyrics, nothing else really feels quite up to the necessary standard to elevate this from comedy festival success to genuine theatrical success, but I do think there is much potential in Castell and Sadler’s writing.