Nina, Birmingham REP
In three words, I would describe Nina as passionate, stirring and insightful.
Nina is a one woman show performed by Josette Bushell-Mingo about her own life and the career of Nina Simone which touches on the civil rights movement and Black Lives Matter. Despite the implications of the title, the show is as much about the woman onstage as it is about Nina Simone, if not more so, as well as things larger than either one. Bushell-Mingo showcased her huge personality, passion and boundless energy throughout the show, as well as her beautiful voice. The first half of the one act show took the form of an extended monologue, peppered with songs and accompanied with images from the civil rights movement as well as Black Live Matter. The second half took the form of a Nina Simone concert, with Bushell-Mingo introducing herself as the understudy. In the second half, Bushell-Mingo’s vocal talent is immense, and her performance was utterly captivating. However, it was not her singing voice that drew my attention, but rather her voice in a different sense – that of an activist and a passionate black woman – which she used fully during the first half.
She began by singing ‘Revolution’ by Nina Simone, but before the song was over the show took a sombre turn, as she claimed there had been no revolution, referencing the many black men and women killed throughout the 20th and 21st century. She also touched on forgiveness and religion, speaking about her mother’s death in a particularly moving section of the show. A darker turn was to come however, with Bushell-Mingo playing out a hypothetical situation in which shoots every white member of the audience, which included her imagining her family pleading with her to stop.
One-woman-shows automatically put me on edge, as they can be stirring, provocative and imaginative, but they can easily be cringe-worthy and over-dramatic. I was surprised and thrilled that Nina was an outstanding example of the former.