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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Soul Sister
Hackney Empire Spring 2012; Savoy Theatre Summer 2012

Part biography, part tribute act, Soul Sister offers a Good Night Out for fans of Tina Turner, who won't mind that they're watching an actress playing Tina and not the lady herself. 

Of course every drag queen worth his falsies can do a passable Tina. Emi Wokoma's version is well more than passable. She's got the look and the moves and, with the help of the sound engineer, comes close enough to the sound. 

Wokoma's real accomplishment is showing us the process of Anna Mae Bullock discovering the Tina Turner within. Starting from the gawky small town girl with a sweet gospel voice, she takes Anna Mae on the long road to stardom with Ike Turner.

Step by step the voice gets rougher, the skirts get shorter, the heels get higher, the shoulders go up, the body finds that stiff-legged strut. 

When Act One ends with the breakthrough River Deep Mountain High, we witness the double theatrical magic of Emi Wokoma finding the full-blown Tina Turner at the same moment Tina does. From then on it's hit after hit, from the take-no-prisoners Proud Mary that opens Act Two to the get-them-dancing-in-the-aisles final medley that climaxes with Simply The Best. 

The book by John Miller and Pete Brooks is at its best when it gives no more biography than is absolutely necessary, and has trouble whenever it tries to get detailed, as when Tina discovers Buddhism.

Miller and Brooks noticeably don't demonise Ike as much as the 1993 film did not ignoring his problems, but seeing him primarily as a man driven by ambition and without enough imagination to see his effects on others. 

Chris Tummings plays Ike with some sympathy, especially as the evening demonstrates that, whatever the billing, the Ike And Tina Turner Revue very quickly became Tina Turner and anonymous backing band. 

The storytelling is aided nicely by Simon Wainwright's video projections that turn it all into a comic book or graphic novel, moving from panel to panel with captions and speech balloons bridging scenes. 

Director Bob Eaton keeps things moving, cleverly employing some moving panels to zip us from scene to scene, and Jason Pennycooke's choreography is spot-on, right down to the Ikettes and their successors never quite being in step. 

Clearly destined for life beyond this short Hackney premiere, Soul Sister should entertain audiences on the road and would not be out of place in the West End.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Soul Sister - Hackney Empire 2012   

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