Review: Soul Sister, Festival Theatre

Emi Wokoma has drawn praise for her vocal display
Emi Wokoma has drawn praise for her vocal display
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Tina Turner was 73 last Monday. Her story is remarkable and, as we watch today’s X Factor wannabes, their narratives packaged into a five-minute bundle to squeeze out votes from those minded to participate in the new showbiz democracy, quite pertinent. Which is maybe why it sits a little uneasily at times to see that real, often harrowing story of a life still ongoing played out onstage for 

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The projected backdrop, with comic strip graphics and archive images, conveys the sheer sweep of history that Turner’s early life encompassed, setting out the context of the segregated and sexist America in which she forged her career.

The tough stuff and the emotion of her destructive, abusive relationship with Ike is laid on with a trowel in parts, papered over in others, leaving cracks which reveal the uneasy tension between the serious storytelling effort and the stuff that, judging by their reaction, folk are actually here for, which is the sheer entertainment of the songs.

And it is in the latter department that the production really soars. Emi Wokoma is rightly hoovering up plaudits for a tremendous vocal and visual performance, the Ikettes and the band are terrific and there is a brilliantly weird audio-only turn from Adam Nash as Phil Spector.

The way in which some songs and slick scene changes are used to transition the plot forward is clever and often preferable to the straight scripted bits. It’s no spoiler to reveal that we eventually segue into the roof-raising finale of a greatest hits tribute act which is done very well and has the audience on their feet. It’s a rousing feelgood finish, as it should be.

There’s a hall full of fans here, not least the lone voice repeatedly crying out for Nutbush City Limits (and fair dos, there was surely room in the set list for it). They went home happy, and rightly so – this was musically very accomplished and entertaining if dramatically less so.

Ultimately, though, it’s a darned good tribute act with a near-fatal dose of “reality” spooned on – too much to ignore, not enough to matter.

Run ends Saturday.