Theatre review: Soul Sister

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IT’S been a fine couple of weeks for women on Edinburgh’s big stages, with 9 To 5 at the Playhouse offering a rough guide to gender politics in the office, and now Bill Kenwright and John Miller’s roof-raising tribute to Tina Turner, at the Festival Theatre.

Venue: Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Rating: * * * *

Review: Joyce McMillan

The point about Turner, of course, is not just that’s she’s a ferociously talented soul singer and a walking embodiment of woman power. It’s that the story of her life represents a great, dramatic liberation struggle in itself, one that began in the early Sixties with Ike and Tina Turner’s shared battle to forge a place for black music in white culture, and reached its crisis when, after 20 years of mounting abuse from the man she once loved, Tina decided she had to make her way on her own.

Devised by John Miller and Pete Brooks, the show tells the story in broad strokes, with the audience sometimes booing and cheering like a pantomime crowd. Yet this is one of those tribute shows that makes a deceptively simple job of a theatrically complex task, combining a dramatic retelling of Tina’s life story with strong visual images – history, quotations, graphic-style film, all projected on a set of ever-shifting screens – and, above all, with a roaring, in-your-face element of live music, featuring a stunning central performance from Emi Wokoma as Tina. Soul Sister is not subtle, but it’s a full-on, passionate show, with a strong sense of history; and as the audience stands up and roars out the final songs, it’s clear that for them, it’s simply the best.