Writer: Kema Sikazwe
Director: Graeme Thompson
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
What defines you? Is it your past, your family? Perhaps more realistically it’s the societal labels attached from unwelcomed comments; immigrant, black, poor or untalented which ‘brand’ us. I, Daniel Blake actor Kema Sikazwe’s Shine gives an account of his own difficulties in finding his ability to not be a product of the system.
With growing resistance to theatres’ promoted history of the stories of the white middle classes, Sikazwe’s Shine requires a unique edge to stride out. It accomplishes this through its lyrical prowess – making its music the core element. It’s a pleasant reference to the narrative, that Kema’s late mother told him the power music holds and that his abilities make him shine out in the darkness of reality.
So, who are we? For Kema, he was a young boy being brought over to the council estates of Newcastle. While it wasn’t the mansion many in the Commonwealth had expected, it was still to be their home. Tragedy, racism and bullying followed – the depraved nature of uninformed people who couldn’t figure out who they were, let alone Kema. On the wrong path, music offered freedom of expression as well as therapy.
Where Shine is at its most impressive is as its music is constructed around us, Sikazwe as its maestro. As he discusses the impact music has had not only on his life but the lives of others, there’s a sense he isn’t acting. This feels real, selling his intentions even more. From the comedic turns to the serious. We are treated to renditions of dance beats, building and growing in crescendo – tunes we are all familiar with at the back of the bus.
At the risk of trivialising, Shine isn’t pushing a narrative entirely unheard of. Its importance is just as paramount though, Sikazwe’s actual accounts of bullying due to immigration or class is a relatable concept deserving to be at the forefront of theatre. What this production benefits considerably from is its musical interludes with rap styled delivery. The score is the standout aspect of the production, crafted in a manner to both entertain as well as inform.
Inspired by his ability at school to rap, the lyrical composition of these numbers is excellent. Furthering the inner turmoil of emotion, without having to spout exposition. Utilising the sound design one distinct number about firearm violence in Zimbabwe is met with chills at the sudden outbursts, Sikazwe physically conveying the anguish throughout.
Emphasising the storytelling element of the production, a keenly designed lighting from Emma Bailey has been incorporated into the set. Strip illumination adorns the walls that contain Sikazwe’s emanating moods, which ebb with the musical score. It’s quite a simple set piece, with the three flats acting to bathe Sikazew in warm light – yet at a moment’s notice confine him.
Hoping to shine bright enough to cast away shadows some audience members struggle with, Shine is an emerging voice amidst a sea of previously ignored narratives. Its individual nature should be respected, but it’s coming of age narrative doesn’t communicate anything revolutionary. That said, with issues surrounding racism, prejudice and violence ever present; perhaps a booming collective voice is required to hammer the point home. Nevertheless, Sikazwe’s performance is heartfelt, his delivery through song as well as spoken word, makes for an engaging piece.
Runs until 18 May 2019 | Image: Contributed