Theatre review: Soul Sister

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Getting up on stage with the aim of looking, acting and sounding like one of musical history’s most iconic figures must be one of the most challenging tasks a performer can face.

But this week when understudy Maria Omakinwa took to the Royal & Derngate stage in Northampton to play Tina Turner in the touring show Soul Sister, she proved herself Simply The Best.

The show, which normally stars Emi Wokoma in the lead role, follows the story of young Anna Mae Bullock as she meets and marries R & B bandleader Ike Turner, who renames her Tina and teaches her the finer points of performance.

Having been a child in the 1980s and grown up seeing Tina Turner’s energetic performances on TV, I still only had a child’s eye view of her life. But this show brings to light some of the personal pressures the star suffered.

As the show progresses we watch as Ike moves from being Tina’s much-loved partner and musical inspiration to an abusive, violent husband with a taste for cocaine.

As the years roll by, Tina grows in strength and success, finding comfort in Buddhism, and eventually learning to confront the demons in her own personal life.

The staging of the show took a little getting used to, with its swiftly sliding panels and video images projected onto a backdrop. Each scene is described briefly with cartoon style boxes in the background and the action is supported with the older Tina’s face appearing on the backdrop as a video narrator. But when I realised the ground that the show covers in terms of time and geography, I quickly appreciated that this was a very clever way of keeping up the momentum of the show.

Maria, starring opposite Chris Tummings as Ike, played out Tina’s public talent and private heartache brilliantly and the story was cleverly interwoven with the musical numbers.

The musical numbers were the stand-out scenes of the show. It took me a couple of songs to start accepting Maria as Tina but as the show progressed, Maria’s talent really shone through.

My favourite scenes included performances of Proud Mary, Shake a Tail Feather, Honky Tonk Woman and Simply The Best, each supported by an on stage band and the super-energetic dance moves of the talented ‘Ikettes,’ Katy Lye, Tamara McKoy-Patterson and Portia Harry.

This show offers a keen insight into the personal history of Tina Turner and acts as a reminder of what a star she really is.

Soul Sister will run until Saturday. See www.royalandderngate.co.uk.