Lemn Sissay Something Dark

Dark and light. Dark and light. Something Dark by Lemn Sissay at HOME.

I’ve seen Lemn Sissay perform three times before, all in slightly different personae.  He presented the Doubleday lecture on equality and diversity in health care, in his capacity as Chancellor of Manchester University.  As a poet, at WOMAD Hip Yak poetry shack reading his wonderful work.  In Reading Prison, as part of a four hour recital of Oscar Wilde’s de Profundis, reading a classic text.  Each time, I’ve got an insight into who the man is.  But only here do I see the true depth of his personal history.

The British care system feels like a cliff edge that you don’t want to even peer over.  Lemn Sissay takes you over the edge of the cliff, down the face head first, you feel the scrapes and the bruises and the fears.  Yet at the bottom he’s still alive.  And perhaps his experience has made him who he is.

It was the same earlier at the Royal Exchange with Stone Flowers, also as part of Journeys Festival, when the choir sang songs of hope and compassion and yet you could only imagine the horrors they had each experienced. So for Lemn, it’s hard to imagine the life he’s had from his public face although he talks openly of it. Yet behind this frank account of growing up with Baptist foster parents and in care homes in Wigan, you feel there’s a lot more that is hidden away, buried deep.

Lemn performs ‘Something Dark’ with truth and compassion.  You’d expect a poet to bring beautiful phrasing even to a difficult story. You’d expect insight and self examination.   But there is also an overwhelming honesty to this piece.

So, a fascinating play from which no institution comes out well. If there are lessons, it is that wounds heal but the scars remain, sometime deep down, sometimes near the surface. We all create the face we need to wear to survive.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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