Johannes Radebe: Freedom – King’s Theatre

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Ladies, gentlemen and my friends beyond the binary” – as Johannes Radebe (or JoJo as we are affectionately to call him) begins the initial hosting piece of Freedom, it becomes evident that the instant likeability and demonstration of talent the show possess is categorically for everyone. While it certainly caters to BBC Strictly fans, Freedom is a glorification and celebration of the radiant journey Radebe has undergone and encourages the audiences to follow his striking steps toward unified and self-freedom.

Bounding on stage, defiant to any limitations to keep them down, Radebe and the cast rarely remain motionless – even in the intimacy of Ballroom movements there is a connection, a momentum otherwise unseen but charged. Carried by live vocals from Anelisa Lamola, the show openly admits that the South African flairs of music may not seem familiar to audiences, but the rhythm and taste in good music are enough to communicate. Staged in a tin sham shackle state, raw and raunchy cobbled together set inspired by Bob Fosse there’s an openness to the design front, incorporating large suns and multitudes of brilliant lighting choices from Andrew Exeter, to further the storytelling of Freedom.

The decision behind the show’s title is self-explanatory, as Radebe charters their journey from internalised homophobia and the experiences of South Africa – through to the liberations of Latin and Ballroom dance, encouraging the natural flairs and poise. And it all comes down to what many grumble and fail to recognise for the historical achievement it was, the first individual same-sex dance on a flagship broadcasting network, followed by Strictly Come Dancing’s 2021 pairing of Radebe and John Whaite. And running us through his experiences, script in hand (though never stuck to), Radebe makes for a charismatic, effortless, and talented host as well as professional dancers and choreographers.

Mingling with the crowds, listening to them, and taking their comments on board – there’s an undeniable sense of community and appreciation coming from Radebe, who respects and comprehends his fame and attraction, but is nevertheless still humbled. It makes for a terrific dynamic with the production’s movement sequences, where the more playful and coyer Radebe unleashes a torrent of tight precision and strict adherence to dance.

A veritable charcuterie of Strictly moments, the second Act may initially seem to deviate from the Freedom of which Radebe speaks – but in reality, is an expression of the adoration of dance and a tremendous display of gratitude from the dancer to his new family, and most importantly a reflection on the freedom of choice and existence. Combining a selection of firm audience favourites, from FoxTrots to a swashbuckling extravaganza set to Pirates of the Caribbean – it’s everything the audience has craved and more. 

Over the top, glammed and glitz to the extreme, there is not a follicle of space wasted on every dancer – with either a feather, silk or glittered flesh on show. Likely the production’s budget has contributed to the sequin shortage, and wherein the first act contained a marvel of personal anecdotes and song choices with which many in a Scottish audience may appreciate but not recognise, Act two is strikingly safe and on home territory – an explosion of unabridged mirth and comfort in living the best life we can.

Johannes Radebe: Freedom continues touring across the UK – tickets for which can be obtained here.

Image Credit – Zoe Cooke

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