Black is the Color of my Voice
Reviewed – 7th February 2019
“Campbell possesses a volcanic energy that leaves the audience helpless to her charm”
Apphia Campbell is a sensation and a powerhouse. That is indisputable. In bringing Nina Simone to life through a one-woman show (Black is the Color of My Voice) and concert (Soul Sessions), she demonstrates tenacity, ferocity and a warmth beyond compare, that was no doubt honed and crafted with deft direction from Arran Hawkins. However, her script for the one-woman show feels rushed and unpolished, resulting in an uneven overall package.
Nina Simone was a prolific singer most prominent in sxities America for her songs that became a part of Civil Rights activism, encompassing genres such as jazz, gospel, and blues. Apphia Campbell tries to explore this through the narrative framing of her in a bedroom, unpacking a suitcase filled with the paraphernalia of the past and telling the audience stories associated with those objects, interwoven with songs from Nina Simone’s discography. These stories are told vividly and interestingly, but the retrospection of them removes a sense of agency, especially given that it is unclear where in her life we are currently seeing her, and so there is never a feeling that looking at her past is really serving to propel her into her future.
Additionally, Black is the Color of My Voice feels quite rushed, introducing plot threads and characters to provide quickfire context for songs but never returning to them in a way that is meaningful for a thorough interrogation of who Nina Simone is as a person. Her mother, for example, features prominently initially but disappears without explanation later on. That is not to say that Black is the Color of My Voice does not feature moments of brilliance, as sections seeing Nina inadvertently becoming the face of the Civil Rights Movement and a particularly tense and heartbreaking scene with her husband are gripping pieces of storytelling, but on the whole, the show feels reluctant to go beyond the surface level. This is encapsulated most in the baffling decision to call Nina Mina Bordeaux instead, which only adds to the unfortunate distance between who Black is the Color of My Voice portrays and who Nina Simone might actually have been.
Soul Sessions, the concert making up the second part of this double bill, however, takes a different tack and pulls it off with aplomb. Apphia Campbell appears as herself this time in a cabaret-style performance, with the assistance of the exceptional accompanist Tim Shaw. She relates her own life experiences to the effect Nina Simone had on her and firing up a magnificent rapport with the audience in the process. Campbell possesses a volcanic energy that leaves the audience helpless to her charm, wit, passion, and drive, and her soul-drenched vocals are so smooth that by the time you’re bouncing out of the auditorium that you’ll have almost forgotten how jagged Black is the Color of my Voice was.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Black is the Color of my Voice
Trafalgar Studios until 2nd March
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: