The tragic murder of George Floyd last year in Minneapolis brought race back to the centre of the stage of American politics. It gave rise to the Black Lives Matter campaign, a movement echoing the civil rights protests of the 1960s led by Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
Nina Simone, the inspiration for this wonderful one woman play, was part of that civil rights movement writing Mississippi Goddam in response to the murder of Medgar Evers in 1963 and the bombing of a church that killed four young black girls. She spoke at rallies and marches demanding change. Frustrated by Dr King’s non-violent approach she felt the movement should violently retaliate instead.
This skilfully handled monologue is no polemic though, concentrating mainly on the relationship between the singer and her father. Yet the most powerful part of the play is when she becomes conscious of the civil rights movement and, powered by the discrimination she has suffered, she knows she has to get involved with the struggle and fight.
The conceit of the piece is that she is talking to a photo of her father, tying together the disparate fragments of her life as she talks. She says, “Until you face who you were in the past you can not become the person you will be in the future.”
Music came easily to her, it was a “gift from God.” At the age of three she was able to pick out the tune of her mother’s favourite hymn on a piano. Yet her dream of becoming a concert pianist is made almost impossible because of racial discrimination but she finds freedom by singing the “Devil’s music.” Despite the disapproval of her mother she joyously says, “With this music I could let out whatever was inside of me.”
Apphia Campbell wrote and performed the play giving a mesmerising and passionate performance. She is to be applauded for creating an extremely powerful and moving piece of theatre.
The monologue is well paced and like a good song it has plenty of light and shade. She cleverly structures the story by threading the narrative through different objects. This worked very well and it enabled her to pull the play along.
What made this play quite magical though were the songs. As we are taken along on her journey we are treated to powerful renditions of Nina’s music along the way, the highlight of the show for me was “I’m feeling good.”
It is hard to maintain interest in a monologue, but the power of the storytelling and the heartfelt performance kept me captivated. She portrays extremely well the pain and anger of a very talented woman seeking redemption and love. You can’t help but be caught up in her life.
It is streaming here – https://www.stream.theatre/season/159 between the 8th and the 18th July. Live performances will also take place at Wilton’s Music Hall, 2nd – 4th August. I heartily recommend it.
Reviewer: Adam Williams
Reviewed: 9th July 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★