Shine review at Live Theatre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne – ‘a sharply observed coming-of-age story’
Live Theatre associate artist Kema Sikazwe’s autobiographical solo piece mixes gig theatre with memoir. Utilising his talents as a rapper and singer, the play is anchored by his immensely personable performance.
Sikazwe’s family moved from Zambia to Newcastle when he was three years old, and Shine is at its sharpest when cataloguing the challenges of relocation: the dashed expectations of an England where everyone drinks tea in mansions, the stress of being desperate to fit in when your race instantly marks you out as different, the conflict of trying to carve out a life in his new home when his much-loved mother yearns to return to a country he barely knows.
Director Graeme Thompson makes good use of Sikazwe’s considerable charm. He’s a delightful performer, whether addressing the audience directly or switching deftly between characters to illustrate his tales. Emma Bailey’s neon-heavy design provides a suitably clubby backdrop to the music. Although the piece could be more polished, this slightly scratch-night feel works well given the youth of its star.
Shine milks the culture clash for laughs, but doesn’t shy away from the grimmer realities of racism and isolation that drove Sikazwe to teenage violence and his brother to drugs. These elements could do with more exploring: some of the songs feel a little pat. Though the central message of self-belief feels abruptly arrived at, leaving much of the story untold, it is undeniably uplifting.
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