On a cold, wet and windy Tuesday evening, I went over to the Unity Theatre, a quaint, little theatre nestled on 1 Hope Place to catch Nina: A Story about me and Nina Simone directed by Dritero Kasapi to indulge in Josette Bushell-Mingo OBE’s outstanding act (or should I say, recollection) as she reflects on one of the most extraordinary and dare I say, influential artists of the twentieth century, Nina Simone. The play is wrapped around rage, love, doubt and fear in a world where racism, the charge for civil rights, and where Nina’s and Josette’s own personal challenges do not sound all too unfamiliar, especially with news of police brutality and racism running across the pond in the US. The audience was taken into the hopes, dreams, sorrows and successes of both Josette and Nina in this spectacular performance which was accompanied by Shapor Bastansiar’s impeccable musical team, Marque Gilmore on the drums and Jair-Rohm Parker Wells on the bass.
What was I expecting? I was expecting a huge stage, Hamilton-esque set-up, but I was pleasantly surprised to be seated in a packed auditorium. Before long, the three men in centre stage scattered to their bass, drums and piano as Josette Bushell-Mingo herself walked in with Nina’s signature hairstyle and her larger than life presence.
As I said, it was a cold, wet and windy night (not very unusual for Liverpool weather) but as soon as she walked in and set the stage, it felt like it was 38° as she described the time of Nina Simone’s long awaited concert. The music was bustling; the audience were cheering as Josette broke into a song called Revolution – perfect start to the night.
But as the audience moved in sync with the music and Josette’s performance, the music died down and that’s where the story really kicked in. A story about revolution, or as Josette described it, like a car stuck in the mud where the wheels kept turning symbolising revolution but we’re only sinking. Josette’s emotions were flowing through the audience that night, even more so as she looked at the audience in the eye as she described her struggles as a proud, Black woman. The mood shifts along as she progresses through her story and struggle.
It was a roller coaster of emotions as best as I can put it, mostly because of Josette’s way of storytelling which just seemed to never end and makes you want more and more and even more to hear that sweet, sultry voice of hers. But it was also mostly because of the fact that her story, Nina’s story that happened over a decade ago could still be relatable to this day. It really stirs your moral conscience when you’re seated in an auditorium of majority White audience as Josette recollects the slavery of Black people and the popular phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’.
Josette, the band, the director and everyone else that was involved in the production of this amazing performance deserves a standing ovation and a round of applause for truly capturing the audience’s heart and emotions. If you’re looking for outstanding music, spectacular performance and self-reflection that’ll keep you up for days, then Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone is what you’re looking for.
p/s: Josette and the band performing hit tunes like Sinnerman, I Wish I Knew How It Would be to be Free, Four Women and Feeling Good definitely adds a reason to come and watch this play.
Don’t miss it! Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone running from 19th October all through the 29th at 8 pm at Unity Theatre.
Photo Credit: Unity Theatre, Riksteatern
EDIT (07/11/2016): The article title was amended to ‘Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone @ Unity Theatre’.