“Dark, In Darkness always comes the question,Where is the light?”
Lemn Sissay literally bounces unto the stage as though about to launch into a stand up routine. The first twenty minutes are indeed a stand up routine in the sense that this is a connection process. Who are we, how do we respond, are we accepting or rejecting? This is the quicksilver poet, the actor, performer, public speaker and private man and inner child. In giving the audience an extra bonus introduction before the play there is an unspoken understanding that this connection is about boundaries and safety. In therapy we talk about the three Ps- Protection, Permission and Potency. In this instance they seem vital to this piece.
During the performance he remarks, that “You shouldn’t tell your story in the way that I’ve told mine if you’ve not come to terms with it. Your well-being has got to be in mind.” On stage he exudes strength, confidence and a wickedly playful sense of humour. He creates a safe space for himself and for the audience in how he performs his own life experience. I sincerely hope that when he steps away from the stage those carefully constructed and honed inner strengths remain robust.
Something Dark is Lemn Sissay‘s one man play telling the extraordinary and shocking story of his childhood in foster care from birth and in four state childrens homes from age eleven to eighteen. It seems impossible to believe that Wigan Social Services countenanced such appalling disregard for a Mothers wishes for her child’s well being and safety. The second half of the play follows his journey to seek out his birth mother living in The Gambia and find a sense of family both there and in his parents homeland, Ethiopia.
Any sense of family however dysfunctional is a gift for a man who at twenty had no one in his life that had known him more than two years. “I was the only proof of my own existence,” As he reminds us family gives us reference points, family provides a set of disputed memories over a lifetime which inform how we see ourselves in Society. As someone who once stood pregnant for the first time at a parents graveside I can connect with that acute sense of being adrift and unknown without parents or siblings to validate my stories and memories.
The performance is rich and full of life, full of resilience and persistence. This work embodies our need in Society to embrace acceptance and tolerance. It eloquently screams out our need to address how we view young people in care and ensure that every aspect of their well-being is paramount while they are being parented by the State.
The performance is both uplifting and painful to watch as this clever, engaging and quite beautiful man reads his story and leads us on a journey so very dark and yet so brilliantly light. Light- because standing on that stage telling his story so poetically and advocating so passionately for young people in the care system, he radiates a light much brighter than the spotlight upon him.
For a human being born into such a dark place he epitomises nothing but light and has certainly fought long and hard “for the right to light.”
Journeys Festival International/ Orbit Festival
13th October 2017