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Festival Review: Nina--A Story About Me and Nina Simone ****

Michael Cox reviews a searing production with a phenomenal central performance.

Nina Simone: singer, musician, activist, icon. There is no denying the relevance Simone has had, not just in music but in social causes as well. She was a stalwart demander of justice in her time—what would she have made of the political world of today?

This question is the crux of Nina—A Story About Me and Nina Simone. Anyone who comes to the theatre expecting a simple tribute act is going to be in for one hell of a shock: performer Josette Bushell-Mingo comes onstage looking similar to Simone and starts singing but abruptly stops before launching in an impassioned assessment of race relations in the modern world. Bushell-Mingo is angry, and like Simone she wants justice. This plea for justice is not just a curtain raiser but is half of the production, and it is stunning.

But the songs do come in the second half, and boy are they brilliant. Wonderfully sung by Bushell-Mingo with a terrific three-piece band, every song is magnificently performed. However, by taking into account the first half, the songs are juxtaposed into social commentary with modern significance.

What we have here is not a tribute act but a searing piece of political theatre, relevant and vibrant from start to finish. Every aspect of the production, from direction to design to sound, is excellently executed. And Josette Bushell-Mingo is utterly phenomenal. You will be hard-pressed to find a finer performance—not just during the festival but this year.

Nina—A Story About Me and Nina Simone performs at the Traverse Theatre until August 13 (no performance on the 7th). Check the website or programme for times as they vary.

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