Simply making the best of Tina

 

A sister with soul: Emi Wokoma as the legendary Tina Turner

Soul Sister

Belgrade Theatre

****

THIS is an absolute ‘WOW' of a show! Ike (Chris Tummings) and Tina Turner (Emi Wokoma) are the main subjects with the focus firmly on Tina.

We pick up the story when little Annie Mae Bullock, an innocent 16 year old in house dress and short white socks auditions for Ike Turner, a well-known and respected impresario.

Her belting version of Amazing Grace impresses him to the extent that his prejudices, particularly against women in his band The Rhythm Kings, are overcome in an instant. He becomes her Svengali, her lover and her tormenter. In exchange, he develops her career, her voice and turns Tina into a megastar.

The story, directed by Pete Brooks and Bob Eaton, is told with energetic stage sets of Tina's music interspersed with dialogue. It is always great to see the musicians on stage. What is also great about this production is the use of video screens to put the story in context and, from this, her successful career is all the more laudable.

As a teenager in Nutbush, Tennessee the attitude to black women is a double bind. To be black is one set back, to be a woman in an age when, as Malcolm X put it, the position of women was ‘prone' was another.

In 1963 when Rosa Parks sat in the ‘whites only' section on that downtown bus, the scene was set for changes that were long overdue. The music business in which little Annie Mae, the now renamed Tina Turner, is engaged is at the centre of a small tornado of change.

The Black Power movement of the 60s supported her rise. Her powerful voice, endless energy, great looks and dauntless personality – all echoed in the amazing Emi Wokoma  – set her apart. The fact that on stage she was a superstar and at home an abused wife was tackled sensitively though grew some gasps from the audience.

The rise of feminism was also a coincidental support for her career, and as she split from Ike, over his legendary unfaithfulness, ‘handiness' and coke habit, she reinvented herself from nothing and succeeded all over again with songs such as What's Love Gotta Do with It, Addicted to Love.

I remember the first time I ever heard River Deep, Mountain High and it was on Radio Caroline at the tender and impressionable age of 13 – and I have been a fan ever since. Her energy is undimmed and this show is a suitable celebration of a wonderful woman. She is Simply the Best. To 03-11-12

Jane Howard 

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