REVIEW: immense solo performance inspired by Nina Simone on the Chichester stage

Black is the Color of My Voice, written and performed by Apphia Campbell, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, Tue 20 – Sat 24 Feb.
Black is the Color of My Voice (PETER DIBDIN PHOTOGRAPHER)Black is the Color of My Voice (PETER DIBDIN PHOTOGRAPHER)
Black is the Color of My Voice (PETER DIBDIN PHOTOGRAPHER)

Apphia Campbell gives it absolutely everything in a performance of remarkable range, skill and passion in her own one-woman play inspired by the life of Nina Simone.

In a sparse bedsit, with just a suitcase of memories, Campbell’s creation – addressing an absent father in a picture in a frame – relives her life, from her discovery of her innate musical ability through to her rousing, committed activism.

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She grows up a woman of colour in a family and a community which simply ignores the racism they are subjected to. But when she is overlooked for a prestigious music school place, the anger starts to flare.

Frustrated, she turns from the classical music her family believe God gave her and espouses instead the devil’s music – just as Nina Simone did in real life. Interwoven into the performance are some of the songs – beautifully delivered – most closely associated with the iconic singer.

And we get the world context too, from the words of JFK to the courage and vision of Dr Martin Luther King. Campbell then recreates most movingly the impact of the King of love’s murder – a key moment in her character’s realisation just why she has been given a voice: to serve the cause of her people.

Playing straight through for just 75 minutes, it packs the most powerful punch after perhaps a slightly slow start. But your patience is amply rewarded – and there’s certainly no doubting the absolute commitment of its sole performer, a brilliant performance and ultimately one of immense impact.