Shine review – a positively radiant one-man show

Kema Sikazwe’s first name means “the one who shines” in the language of his Zambian parents. It suits him. The rapper and actor, who also performs as Kema Kay, has a radiance that draws you to him. For all the fast-talking punch of his lyrics, he comes across as a good soul, an innocent trying to make sense of a world that hasn’t always reciprocated his positive intentions.

In this autobiographical solo show, first seen in 2019 and revised for this run, he tells a coming-of-age story about his quest to fit in. It strikes home for its honesty, vulnerability and, in its mix of spoken word and music, its virtuosity – that and the finely tuned production by Graeme Thompson.

By rights, Sikazwe should have had it easy. He wasn’t born into wealth, but his father had the initiative to land a place at Newcastle University and, crucially, an uncle who, being minister of finance Ronald Penza, had the resources to get the family from Zambia to the UK.

By Sikazwe’s own account, the northeast of England had much the same mix of poverty and wealth as the country he left at the age of three. The weather could have been better but their new council estate had a familiar community spirit.

One of nature’s observers, Sikazwe paints himself as a shy and sensitive boy whose attempts to assimilate are forever thwarted. He picks up the local accent but remains an outsider, not least because of the racist bullying of his classmates. Fighting back wins him acceptance but brings more trouble.

It’s a dilemma compounded by a string of family tragedies that give the monologue much of its emotional pull. However willing Sikazwe may be to do the right thing, circumstances are against him. His sunny personality is all that accounts for his apparent lack of anger at those who failed to support him.

He tells his tale with the same charm and urgency with which he delivers his songs, his body language fluid and controlled while Nick Rogerson’s strip lights, arranged in parallel lines on Emma Bailey’s set, build from cool blue nightclub to fiery red. As a show about positive thinking, it shines.

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