The true story of Lemn Sissay beats anything that a fiction writer could have created.
He’s an illegitimate son of an African woman, born in England at a time when the English weren’t used to black skins. He was fostered out against his mother’s will and brought up by white Baptist fanatics who became convinced the young boy had the devil in him.
Sissay, the author and actor, relives his troubled childhood night after night, purging the demons that still haunt him from those early days, perhaps.
Something Dark is compelling theatre, a one-man show that swoops and soars through a whole range of emotions. He re-enacts an exorcism and his devastating rejection by his foster family, then instantly switches mood to make us laugh and dispel the lump in our throats.
Remarkably he has triumphed over the trauma – or perhaps triumphed because of it – to become a popular British poet and be honoured as an MBE by the Queen of England.
His language is rich and thoughtful, yet simple and accessible. It’s not convolutedly clever, but the language of the streets where he dragged himself up.
Sissay’s face tells as many stories as his words. His pliable features give us fear, doubts, sorrow, anger and bewilderment. Not much happiness, because his is a fundamentally sad and sadder story. Vigorous physical movements add a third dimension to round out the words and expressions, while perfect lighting by Anne Meeussen emphasises the moods. In the background, atmospheric music by Jim Parris subtlety builds to underscore the searing emotions.
At the age of 18 Sissay left the children’s home to head for the big city, armed only with a fistful of poems and a newly acquired birth certificate that lets him begin the search for his real family and for his real self.
The play comes at us in two acts, and you’re itching for the interval to end so you can find out how his adult life unfolds.
Something Dark not a happy story by any means, but its varied pace, Sissay’s riveting presentation and the sheer ridiculousness of the situations forced upon him make this an utterly absorbing show.
Something Dark runs at the Market Theatre until November 28.
For more of Lesley’s musing follow the links alongside.