I first came across Lemn Sissay when he delivered the key note speech at the Children’s Media Conference in 2016. To my shame I hadn’t read any of his work before. Listening to him talk about his life was fascinating and affecting for me. Since then I have followed him on social media, listened to him on the radio, read his words and and talked about him over and over to family and friends because he was really that powerful.
Last night my friend and I saw him read his play, “Something Dark” at a sold out performance in the Studio Theatre in Sheffield. We went, listened and afterwards we talked and talked. I was sure I wasn’t going to write a review of any kind when I got hom. It seemed too personal a story, for me, just a Sheffield Blogger, to write about. But this morning I lay in bed with sentences going through my head, so I’ve come downstairs to do exactly that. If I can help someone discover Lemn Sissay who hasn’t come across him before that would make me happy.
Lemn’s story is a heartbreaking one and in “Something Dark” it is beautifully and painfully written. It rolls in waves of change and sadness. A little boy mistreated by a system from the moment of his birth. A black boy living in a white community. An adult discovering his family and his heritage. His feelings shown through his script and his poetry.
At the end he took questions and one guest asked what his relationship is like with his family now. My friend summed it up as we talked endlessly about the performance on the way home. She said we are all looking for a fairytale ending, for him and for all those with stories like this. Of course there isn’t a fairytale ending and Lemn is accepting about that, despite how important this must be to him.
He made us think about family. The idea of having no family and therefore none of the support or boundaries that come along with that – growing up with only himself as his guide. The lack of tenderness during his young life. Lemn was 11 when he lost what he knew as family. My daughter is 11. I can see the trickiest part of life is to come for her. Lemn was taken into care at just that moment.
There was laughter – Lemn is truly funny. This photo was him larking about posing for cameras. But there is a sadness from this beautiful soul.
This story is personal and real but it’s the play itself that shows how skilled a writer he is. Oddly the show was in a round (which I know he wasn’t expecting). Tricky when he needed to deliver it with a script and stand – so we mostly saw the back of his head for the second half. Not that that really mattered because often I closed my eyes to just listen to his powerful poetic words.
I know I’m gushing but it’s rare, a show like this. Moving, thought provoking and real.