One never knows what to expect when the professionals from Strictly are set loose. Will it be an evening of excellence or of cheesy routines and lame gags?

Freedom was an evening of excellence and excellence in so many forms. Let’s get through the easy stuff first, it was well designed, well lit and well dressed. It had been put together with style and with confidence. It was well directed too and very well rehearsed, no slips, no moments when you thought that maybe it needed more time. It was well cast, there wasn’t a dancer on that stage that would be out of place in any professional show and one of them had a stunning voice too which when paired with the other vocalist really packed a punch, and the other vocalist… well she could hold her own in any show and singing in any style – wonderful!

So on to Johannes, or should we now call he JoJo, because by the interval I think his disarming honesty led us all to believe that we were now in an intimate relationship with him.

Freedom is not just an evening of dance, it is his person story (I refuse to use the word journey) from his South African township childhood, through Johannesburg to cruise ships and finally via the South African Strictly to London and the real (British) deal. A few years in the background before being let loose in the front line-up and finally to that ground breaking partnership with John Whaite. And ground breaking it was, it may have received a little prejudicial backlash but overall it moved the public perception of LGBTQI+ ideas and ideals forward by miles. There was more love for that coupling, which they handled so well, than there was flack. In Freedom we get a sultry same sex tango that works so well in a show that does not over-labour this important point.

JoJo tells the story between routines and he does it with style and the odd tear. The sense is one of sincerity and the audience lap it up and rightly so. And what an audience, a genuine sell out show, not a free seat to be seen and at times not a dry eye.

Of course the heart of the show, beyond that story, has to be the dance and from the opening number to the lavish feather bedecked finale it was high octane stuff. His African heritage shapes the early part of the show, then his time enjoying Johannesburg’s popular culture. It finally shifts into his professional career, his first experience of ballroom and professional dance.

In the second half we are treated to a Bob Fosse influenced routine that was beautifully conceived and executed and a sequence when JoJo and two other male dancers step out and dance in towering, sequinned stiletto boots – wow! Next a series of dance forms that are the core of ballroom competition, from elegant to downright sexy, and finally back to exuberant full on show time with a routine that sees the stage filled with feathers and sequins and at the centre JoJo in a costume fit for a Rio carnival. The whole production would not be out of place on any Las Vegas stage.

But in truth Radebe has one ambition, he tells us that he is now in a position to look after his family and his clan, but what he really wants to do is to take this show back to his homeland, to South Africa and Johannesburg. I hope he does, he deserves this and so does his country.

Andrew Kay

Theatre Royal Brighton

18 April

Rating: ★★★★★

One Response

  1. Linda Malcolm says:

    Can’t think I have ever enjoyed a dance show more! By the end, I really felt I was there marvelling at and supporting a personal friend. Johannes is magical!

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