I’m not sure if this is my first theatre review but here goes …
On Sunday 30th April 2017 I was at the Royal Court theatre in Sloane Square, London, to see something dramatic. It wasn’t a performance in the traditional sense. It was the reading of my client, Lemn Sissay’s psychological report.
It sounds dry doesn’t it ? It was far from it.
The report plotted the life course of Lemn Sissay the famous poet, playwright and performer. It exposed how a succession of adults who should have protected him failed badly. First social workers failed to return him to his birth mother as an infant, then his foster family set him up to fail their ludicrous Christian values tests. They spat him out aged 12 and then the residential care system in Wigan set to work on this black kid who had just lost the only family he’d ever known.
Throughout this he’d suffered open racial abuse at school and in his home town, Atherton.
The care system kicked him out and at 17 with no support he was left to make his own way.
I’m left wondering how he managed to get through all that without turning into a bad boy. How come he’s not an armed robber ?
I can’t answer that one but somewhere along the line Lemn has taught himself superhuman powers of self restraint. Any normal person would have railed against the system and sunk deeper into the stereotype of the angry young man they seem to have been trying to create.
It might have something to do with his intelligence and his creativity with the pen. Lemn himself has explained his influences through this time in his “Origin” series of programs on BBC radio 4. In short his poetry and writing pulled him through.
It has not ended well though despite his “successful” public persona.
As the psychologist, Elie Godsi, explains he had hasn’t been without his issues (alcohol, relationship and inter-personal difficulties) but he is working hard at finding stability and a sense of belonging that most of us take for granted. His rightful place is as part of his birth family. Failures meant he was denied access to the best schools unlike to his siblings.
Having his psychological report read to him live on stage has no doubt been challenging for him but Lemn is so well known that he is able to have a supportive, loving audience listen to it alongside him.
Most importantly, by doing this he is broadcasting to the world just how child abuse and neglect shapes the lives of our children. He’s showing us what the system shouldn’t do to kids.
Lemn is sacrificing his privacy to teach us all that our institutions must do better.
More information about this incredibly moving performance is below. Lemn is on Facebook. His name makes him easy to find and he’s an extraordinary gent.
David Greenwood, 5th May 2017
Lemn Sissay’s The Report
Sun 30 Apr 2017
“One reader. One table. And me. And The Report.”
Lemn Sissay MBE is a poet, playwright, broadcaster and actor.
Lemn was brought up in care and he is taking the social services to court for stealing his life. As part of the legal proceedings Lemn has had to undergo a 5-hour psychological assessment.
When a person claims abuse by the system a report is written. The Report unveils everything.
Just before Lemn turns 50, he will hear a reading of this medical assessment, The Report, for the first time live on the Royal Court stage. He invites the public to join him.
“A few weeks ago I sat down in a beige interview room in the legal district of Leeds City Centre. I thought it was going to be easy. The man sat behind the table opposite me had been appointed by my lawyer. He was neither friendly ‘we’re going to be five hours at least’ or unfriendly ‘There’s a lot to get through.’ He clicked his ballpoint pen and the psychological interrogation of my life began. Mid way through the interview I broke down.
This week I received The Report via my lawyer. He said it brought him to tears. I’ve decided to listen to it for the first time on stage, supported by an audience.”
Read by Julie Hesmondhalgh to Lemn Sissay
Directed by John E McGrath
Produced by Sarah Sansom
Lemn Sissay is an Honorary Doctor of Letters, has an MBE for services to literature, is Associate Artist at Southbank Centre and is a Foundling Fellow.