Wednesday, September 28

Black is the Color of my Voice – Pleasance at EICC

Amazing. Brilliant. Such an expanse of energy. These are some of the comments I heard on leaving the theatre.

For myself the rapture began less than one minute in. The hairs, not just on my arms, but on my scalp, stood on end as our protagonist call “Daddy!” Why? I’m not sure. It must have been the emotional intensity. I knew this was going to press buttons and make me bleed. In a good way.

Apphia Campbell has a powerful voice: a fitting tribute to Nina Simone, but, more than that, this woman can act. She knows about pace and tension and pathos and immersion. It is a beautiful piece of theatre. Scripted to perfection by Campbell, this is a don’t miss piece for lovers of Nina Simone and all theatre goers who admire true commitment and emotional frankness.

For me, I knew little of the artist, apart from having a strong preference for Simone’s emotional version of Feeling Good over Bublé’s accomplished milky-tea version. Thankfully, Campbell did not leave us wanting. She delivered a deeply emotional and compelling rendition of Feeling Good which brought this reviewer to tears.

The soundscape (Tom Lishman) of historical TV footage was apt. Was it overly laboured? It certainly felt black and white compared to Campbell’s technicolour insight into the woman behind the songs. I am not a fan of being preached to, but, unquestionably, the Civil Rights campaign in America in the 1960s is a time to be remembered and celebrated: a first step in a movement that is still in transit and still has a way to go. The cold reportage is significant in that it clashes with the minefield of anguish and toil behind this essential human rights struggle. Nina Simone fought with her voice, her piano and her incredible musical ability to support and further justice and equality. Her heroism is what touches our humanity. Heroism encased in beautiful musicality.

It hurts to think that innocent children in a church were victims of this struggle. Cruel indeed. That was news to me, not being American. And Simone’s response in a world that wasn’t sympathetic to her cause was brave and beautiful. Campbell ensures we understand that fact.

The set worked effectively, allowing changes of perspective and movement. While lighting, (Clancy Flynn) reflected and enhanced the range of emotions covered in this rise-to-fame story and Simone’s compelling urge to do good.

The original direction by Arran Hawkins and Nate Jacobs served Campbell well.

Campbell, sought after in theatre and TV as a writer, is a masterful performer capable of evoking exuberance and grief. She claims she turned to singing as a way of making money when living in China and had never previously considered herself a vocalist. She is a vocalist of impact. The same can be said of Simone. She was told to sing along with her piano playing or there would be no job. From that command arose a body of work of profound significance.

Black is the Colour My Voice is more than a biographical piece for Nina Simone fans, it is a big breath of human vitality, achievement against the odds and anguish. I can do nothing other than pour accolade upon accolade upon the head of a talented, raw, brave, committed performer in bringing this wonderful piece of writing to the stage. Thank you, Apphia Campbell.

Black is the Color of my Voice continues at Pleasance at EICC until 22nd August, for more information and tickets click HERE.

Reviewer: Kathleen Mansfield

Reviewed: 7th August 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★