Underbelly
23-30 August, 13.45

Lemn SissayThis exploration of life as the outsider, told by a black man who never knew another black person until he was 18, is a humorous and timely look at contemporary attitudes to race.

Rather like the concept  of ’whiteness,’ people’s impressions of which are projected onto the black actor’s white jacket at various points, this show presents reality rather than preaches messages.

Sissay is amusing and articulate, using effective physical behaviours to convey feelings of vulnerability and isolation. The simple, effective, arctic scenery evokes a sense of alienation, and jokey descriptions of inhabitants of his working class northern hometown are hilariously believable.

Attention is drawn to the unhelpful PC mask over racial differences, emphasising that this does not combat the vestiges of racial judgement. Even supposedly positive stereotypes are still stereotypes, as they involve treating someone as an alien ‘other.’

The play seems to advocate acting from logic and facts, not denying surface differences but acknowledging them. Apparently, the supposedly comforting refrain that “Colour doesn’t matter; it’s the personality that counts,” is unhelpful when colour is the basis of real racist behaviour, as Sissay experienced at school.

Later it emerges that Sissay has other issues in relation to alienation, such as a foster care upbringing, and the issue of race as the main causal factor in his sense of betrayal becomes blurred.

If any racial anger exists in him, Sissay suggests, it is an expression in the search for love. It seems that experience of racial prejudice creates a feeling of lack of security in his relationships, because he cannot see the prism of his own skin colour through which others may view him.

This intensely personal portrayal of the subjective experience of growing up with race issues, in addition to other unintelligible and uncontrollable complications of life, is affecting and thought-provoking, providing an intellectually-rigorous exploration of the concepts of colour and belonging.

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