Nina - a story about me and Nina Simone - review
Unity Theatre Liverpool

Words by: Juliet A. Green | Published: October 24, 2016 8:47 AM
Nina - a story about me and Nina Simone Nina - a story about me and Nina Simone

This play is not political posturing but an overwhelming piece of theatre.

Very early into the piece, much like the response I have to the irrepressible Simone, songwriter, pianist, and political activist…and my tears flowed. Josette Bushell-Mingo OBE, who I first watched perform From the Mississippi Delta, Talawa Theatre Company, some 20-years-ago, compounded that feeling as the production’s tension increased.

The artists’ job is indeed to push the boundaries. The framework of Bushell-Mingo’s performance achieves the latter. As a result, the National Touring Theatre of Sweden and Liverpool’s Unity Theatre may just have produced one of this decade’s most important pieces of Theatre. Certainly, the production’s current renderings suggest this is the case.

The performance narrative is unquestionably shaped by those images associated with Nina Simone, activist/Civil Rights Campaigner. Clothes, hair, and video images of the Civil Rights Movement add vibrancy to Bushell-Mingo’s strength as a solo performer/storyteller. In a setting designed by Rosa Maggiora, in addition to Shapor Bastansiar, Musical Director/Swedish National Theatre collaborator and his fellow musicians’. Who accompany the evening with 13 or so pieces from the era and Simone’s songbook. Ranging from Antony Newley’s, ‘Feeling Good’ to Simone’s ‘Mississippi Goddam’ and much more.

As the production unfolds, the connections take place revealing Bushell-Mingo’s own family tragedy and religious experience/thoughts. Connections become cathartic and the importance of telling stories, most importantly, forwarding those stories to the next generation, in what every guise humanly bearable.

Family and friends are referred to movingly and in terms of her children – deeply moving. Yes, Nina-a story about me and Nina Simone, is challenging, especially as the Civil Rights Movement post 50’s and 60’s has lately re engaged, propelling itself into the current political and social climate 2016. The latter being another of the production’s themes.

As an audience member the emotional response, and my division of said responses into the productions sum total showed that the creative team beginning with Bushell-Mingo, Kasapi and Anderson. Jointly and singly called upon their cultural and professional experience to re-appropriate the concepts of love, oppression, protest, struggle, and war, not only for an audience but also as part of the theatre communities continuing commitment to accommodate and keep-safe societies contemporary needs.

Bushell-Mingo a Swedish based English actress/director of African descent. Dritero Kasapi a Macedonian born director. And Christiana Anderson an African American Dramaturge, have individually re-appropriated their share of material; Bushell-Mingo, through directing The Odyssey (Royal Shakespeare Company and Canadian National Arts Centre). ‘Her production of The Odyssey, performed in Swedish Sign Language received huge critical acclaim in Scandinavia.’ Kasapi’s Othello (National Theatre Sweden), Othello is not a Moor, as Kasapi re-appropriates beyond dramatist, Cinthio and Shakespeare. And Anderson’s, Loves Labours Lost as, ‘Christina's riff on Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost is a part of a series of scenes featured in the New York Times.’ The above-mentioned are but minor details of their overall professional commitment to press on...

It illuminates the bringing of diversity and active involvement, thus helping the audience position themselves without fear of good or bad, or for that matter feelings of guilt or uncertainty. Surely, the message is that we journey together through such productions without surprise or indeed alarm. Just our joint need to comprehend will suffice.

On this Liverpool destined journey, and as a black professional in the arts, one hoped not to see some ill-conceived anger management performance. One that shows little, in my opinion, of the often-malleable personal and or individual scenarios that take all of us by surprise particularly when it comes to matters of our joint perceptions about race. Certainly, for my generation whose parents and grandparents were of the ‘Empire Windrush,’ less so in recent years are we met with the above mentioned ‘anger management performance’. Fortunately with this coming of age, and as we perform on the shoulders of predecessor such as Nina Simone, our story is already there. The brutalities revealed, unfortunately repeated even today. Who are we but to continue with sound body and mind the journey commenced by our ancestors for and on behalf of our race, the human race.

Info: Nina - a story about me and Nina Simone is at the Unity Theatre Liverpool until 29th October 2016 | Book tickets

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