EFR - Reviews of Black is the Color Of My Voice

Black is the Color Of My Voice

Wed 5th – Mon 31st August 2015

reviews

Flo Layer

at 19:06 on 15th Aug 2015

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Black is the Color of My Voice is an incredibly powerful show that is guaranteed to raise goosebumps and leave a soulful swing in your step.

Apphia Campbell tells the story of Mena Bordeaux, a jazz singer inspired by the one and only Nina Simone. Throughout the play Mena turns to address her ‘Daddy’, a blurred black and white photograph placed on a chair at the edge of the set, a technique that frames her story with a beautiful sense of nostalgia and sadness.

While it felt a little slow to get started, the narrative finally gets into the details of Mena’s past: the discovery of her musical talents at the age of three; her dream to become the first black concert pianist; and her growth to become the jazz voice of the American civil rights movement. The whole piece is superbly tied together with extracts from a variety of Simone’s best songs.

Apphia Campbell is an incredibly powerful singer with an intensity of character of match. As an actor, she was consistently brilliant. She switched between the honest and intense delivery of various monologues that related past traumas to an excellent caricature Mena Bordeaux’s righteous and back-bent mother with apparent ease.

Campbell’s performance of such chilling scenes when Mena relates her relationship with the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” Archie, were humbling, especially when drawn in contrast to the occasional moment of light-hearted relief.

Yet it was of course Campbell’s incredible voice that stole the show. I was utterly blown away by her performance of a handful of Simone’s best songs, in particular her soft and moving rendition of I Loves You Porgy and a dizzying delivery of Feeling Good.

Of course, the musical element to the show meant that it relied heavily on a recorded soundtrack. Happily, the technical cues were perfectly timed and used to great effect. The use of particular sound clips from Martin Luther King’s speech, to radio announcements and cheering crowds really added an extra dimension to the piece.

Indeed, the show’s focus on Mena Bordeaux’s involvement in the civil rights movement gave the play an interesting political edge and was arguably one of the most powerful aspect of the play. It reaches a hugely memorable climax in Campbell’s powerful rendition of Simone’s ‘Mississippi Goddam’.

Black is the Color of my Voice is a beautiful play that is shaped by its encounters with tragedy and lifted by soul.

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Dominic Spirra

at 18:38 on 17th Aug 2015

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Black Is The Colour Of My Voice opens with an old Liberian saying, that one must make peace with the past to confront the future. Throughout the next hour, the show takes us on a journey into the past of Mena Bordeaux (Apphia Campbell), a fictional jazz musician and civil rights activist inspired by Nina Simone. She undergoes a cleansing of sorts, in a three day isolation from the world following the death of her father.

The stage is sparsely decorated as a bedroom, with a suitcase of memories at its centre. Using a few props and some audio recordings, Campbell is able to take us on a journey with such documentary realism that one feels immersed not only in the life of this character but as if one has been immersed by a full ensemble.

We are able to live each musical progression - from the piano at aged two, to Gospel music, to jazz, and each bitter hardship of life as a black woman in an oppressive time - through the canvas of Campbell’s face to remarkably moving effect. The marriage of famous audio we have all heard, such as Martin Luther King’s speeches and reports of his death, to the face, the eyes of a person, rather than the recorded images expected, had startling effect due to the immense emotional expressiveness of Campbell.

The simplicity of lights on a sequin hat as Bordeaux dances around the stage, watching the mesmerising effect of the reflection on the ceiling dancing with her, was one example of the transportive profundity that occurred throughout the performance.

This story of a young girl who was chosen by music, rather than the other way round, overcoming the oppression resulting from the colour of her skin, the oppression of a mother’s scalding for playing jazz - the devil's music - and the oppression of an abusive husband, had the audience transfixed from start to finish.

Towards the end of the show, Mena confronts the addressed picture of her father, begging him to come back. The streaming tears on her black skin tell a story in themselves. As Mena begins one of her final songs, the lyrics “Sun in the sky, you know how I feel” reverberating throughout the capacity venue, it becomes apparent that the true emotional implications of what we have just seen can be deduced only by Nature itself. That as an audience we can only begin to understand the journey just witnessed, and only then as a result of the immense skill of one woman on a small stage with a remarkable voice telling a remarkable story.

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