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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Nina: A Story About Me and Nina Simone Review | The Lowry | Manchester

Talking about a revolution

Josette Bushell-Mingo is a London born, Swedish based singer and Laurence Olivier Award-nominated actress (for the role of Rafiki in The Lion King). Against a tasselled silver backdrop in the Lowry’s intimate Quays Theatre, she navigates through a personal and political message of hope.

Beginning with Revolution, alongside renditions of Nina Simone’s classics, Feeling Good, and Ain’t Got No (I Got Life) are stories interlinked with Josette’s life, asking how we make sense of the racism of the past and continue to tolerate injustices. At a time where the media have fueled racism and bigotry with little resistance for change or accountability, the production layers ten of Simone’s tracks to reminds audiences of the protest songs of the past. It is a beautifully simple vision that highlights Simone and Josette’s connection as one that gives her work purpose and inspires resistance.

Josette performs Mississippi Goddam, a political protest song written in response to the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers (1963) and the 16th Street African American Baptist Church bombing that killed four children. With Simone’s lyrical resurgence mixed with images of violence and police brutality against black bodies. It is a fresh reminder of how slowly change has come, if at all. Mississippi Goddam was banned in several Southern states, with boxes of Simone’s single returned by stations broken in half. At the Lowry, Josette emphasises what progress has been made, inserting numerous new states at the end of the song.

The audience at the Lowry are also put under the spotlight during parts of Josette’s forceful show. Raising the house lights, she scolds the audience out of complacency, it is not needlessly hostile, but her language is meant to shock. As high-powered racists are once again emboldened by the likes of Brexit and the Trump administration, she amplifies why rhetoric matters. Challenging biases in a way that shifts the audience into an awakening. It is an uncomfortable conversation to have, and the atmosphere feels tense, but this hopefully brings about a sense of understanding for how minorities are often treated as second-class citizens.

Referencing the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Josette frustration is that this movement is needed in 2018. The plight of minorities remains far from the average Brits daily conscious, and Josette’s performance allows audiences to see the issue personalised. The exercise should lead viewers towards an unnoticed perspective, helping them empathise with her personal story rather than see her criticism as an attack on themselves.

Commanding the stage throughout the 90-minute show, Josette is spirited and enthralling. The music constructs a compelling narrative alongside her own life story, and Josette has the ability to keep her audience both uncomfortable and inspired. Shaped around empowerment, this performance is energising, poignant and powerful, and with her finale, Revolution bursting with emotion, the show ends as she began it.

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