If you’re a fan of Strictly Come Dancing’s Johannes Radebe, this first solo theatre outing is a must-see show. But even if you’ve never seen Strictly, it’s safe to say you will be a fan of Radebe’s by the end of the night. It’s rare to see a show this personal, as if you’re watching someone realising their dream right in front of you. South African Latin dance champion Radebe is a lovable personality and fierce performer who leaves it all on the floor. And from his arrival on stage, where the cast parts in two and Radebe majestically sweeps forward wearing ceremonial Zulu costume, it’s clear there’s a star in our midst.
Freedom packs in everything meaningful to Radebe, from his township childhood, delving into South African dances kofifi and pantsula, to the clubs of Johannesburg, the snaking bodies of tango-like kizomba, mixing up Latin, club and various African styles, and then a whole Bob Fosse section. Not every dancer in the energetic young cast is expert in every style. They can dance it, but their bodies don’t have that deep inculcation. Radebe, however, inhabits it all, with plenty of his own fabulous flair thrown in. He’s a dancer of speed and sass, and his tall frame is precise in its articulation; he really commands the stage.
Radebe also takes the mic and proves a charming MC, telling his story from post-apartheid Zamdela to 2020s London, thanking many of the people who helped get him here, and appealing for freedom for everyone to be able to be who they are, not just pointing out there are 70 countries in the world where homosexuality is still illegal, but then sweeping on stage in an outfit of gold shimmer with a flowing train made of flags from those countries. The politics is heartfelt, the delivery inspired.
The second half of the show relives some of Radebe’s favourite Strictly moments and then heads off into rousing and carnivalesque party territory. It’s frequently OTT – they must have bought up the city’s entire sequin stock – but performed with complete conviction, and there is simply unbridled joy in witnessing someone living their best life.