Soul Sister

Devised by John Miller and Pete Brooks
Savoy Theatre, London

Soul Sister: Emi Wokoma as Tina Turner Credit: Marilyn Kingwill

Tina Turner’s turbulent life and career was well documented in the 1990s film-biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It with focus on the domestic violence suffered by the singer at the hands of partner Ike.

In this musical tribute, directors Pete Brooks, Bob Eaton and team propose a different angle with hints of the above (the occasional slap) giving way to the singing and stage relationship of Ike (Chris Tummings) and Tina (Emi Wokoma)—and, mostly, to the classic songs produced by the couple and, latterly, Tina alone.

The production premiered at The Hackney Empire in April to great acclaim and begins in the eighties when the phenomenally successful “Private Dancer” heralded a renaissance for Turner’s career and provided the soundtrack of a decade for many.

From here we time-machine back to the late ‘fifties to see where it all began, aided by a computerized backdrop that provides key moments in contemporary American history (civil rights, Kennedy, Luther King, Vietnam, etc) punctuated by occasional interviews where “Tina” reminds us that, despite the lows, Ike was an innovative and talented artist without whom there would be no Tina.

It is a big ask to truly personate the power and unique quirks of Turner’s voice, but all credit to Emi Wokoma, whose show it is and whose vocal strength over twenty-plus songs is well up to the challenge and who captures Tina’s physical jerks to a tee.

The four backing singers—Rochelle Neil and “Ikettes” Hannah Fairclough, Aisha Jawando, Joanne Sandi—are superb in both song and movement and the presence of on-stage musicians creates a live-concert feel, particularly towards the end of the second half.

At two hours thirty minutes (interval inclusive) the show could be tightened by the removal of some unnecessary inter-song narrative that doesn’t elucidate the back-story and padding such as “Addicted to Love”, which feels very Robert Palmer. Nevertheless, the moment when Tina fights back provides a dramatic and well-placed “Yes!” moment for all of us and makes up for any lack.

This loud, energetic evening should attract fans of both Tina and soul. I feel the final song should have been “What's Love Got To Do With It” (it isn’t—you’ll have to go to find out what is) but the audience was on its feet regardless.

Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler

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