Photo: Simon Anaand
Oscillating between forceful meditations on racist violence, intensely personal stories about identity, and renditions of many of Nina Simone’s best-known songs, at times the show seems disorganised and disjointed. However, by pulling the audience through a broad spectrum of emotions in quick succession, Bushell-Mingo replicates Simone’s infamous temperamental nature – later in life, the singer was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
The stage at times resembles a prison cell. Images, projected on a dividing curtain of thick threads, transition from footage of Nina Simone and Bushell-Mingo to protests, and police; the threads transform from stage-curtain into the wires of a cage. In 1969, Nina Simone’s audience was overwhelmingly black; the audience for this show was predominantly white. Bushell-Mingo underscores this fact in a chilling address, wherein she threatens the white members of the audience. In this, she inverts the cage. She forces her captive audience to confront how expectations of forgiveness can be a means to silence the oppressed.
Photo: Simon Anaand
The play begins with, and returns again and again to, Nina Simone’s performance of Revolution in 1969 Harlem – a time when a wave of assassinations (Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Bobby Kennedy) caused the civil rights movement to falter. This play is an elegy for a dissipated revolution – ‘how the f*** did we come to a time when we have to say ‘black lives matter’,’ asks Bushell-Mingo. But it is also an examination of her personal journey of identity – her anger, fears, and frustration – and her relationship with Nina Simone as a leading black, female celebrity.
The play touches on a number of important issues, but the one hour and a half run-time is a little short for each of them to receive the attention they deserve. Fans of Nina Simone may find that the selection of songs leaves out their favourites. However, in all, the play is a thought provoking examination of identity and racial inequity.
|What||Nina, Young Vic review|
|Where||The Young Vic, 66 The Cut, Waterloo, London, SE1 8LZ | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Southwark (underground)|
19 Jul 17 – 29 Jul 17, 7:45 PM – 9:45 PM
|Price||£10 – £25|
|Website||Click here to book via Young Vic|