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Soul Sister

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Just when you think they're running out of old rock stars to create yet another necrophiliac West End compilation show, along comes this weak-kneed, sycophantic Tina Turner tribute… but with a blistering, knock-out star performance from unknown Emi Wokoma.

Wokoma doesn't just re-fashion Tina's greatest hits; she claims them for herself, doing full justice to the great lady's full-on sexy glamour in her shimmying, shaking glitter dresses, pulsating thunder thighs and startled hair that resembles a nest full of electrified rats' tails.

She sings like a dirty angel possessed, miraculously gifted as a vocalist, charting that unique progress from Gospel and blues to soul and the hard-hitting rock of the Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman" and "Addicted to Love". The second act opener is particularly good, as she possesses Tina's stage "look" in "Proud Woman" with an irresistible, aggressive musical staging.

Otherwise, the production by Pete Brooks and Bob Eaton – which premiered earlier this year at the Hackney Empire – has to cover the cracks of a terrible (un-credited) book with Laura Hopkins' ingenious design tricks: great graphics, evoking LA and life on the road in simple strokes; the obligatory iconic photo album (JFK, Nixon, Vietnam, men on the moon, Martin Luther King; can we lose these reels, please?); and the ever-reliable grey sliding panels.

As is well known, Tina was an abused woman, Ike her Svengali turning wife-beater and coke-head. Chris Tummings does his best with a thankless role and a stick-on Afro hair-do, and we never hear his case for the defence (maybe there is none). But the main thing is that Tummings, like Ike, plays the guitar superbly. And he's part of a really fantastic onstage band.

The second act falters badly as Ike and Tina wrestle with his coke addiction and infidelities, and her banal conversion to Buddhism. Short scenes are set up to show him hitting her across the mouth; when she breaks his lip in retaliation, the house cheers. But this ain't Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. And there's no dramatic energy, nothing that moves the show onwards or explains the characters. And the acting is non-existent.

So by the time they stop all that nonsense and go back to the songs, we are mighty relieved. They turn up the bass; Sean Green's musical direction is faultless, and ends with a sensational version of "Simply the Best", Wokoma - believe me, she's no longer Tina, that's how good she is – descending on the audience like a viper in a sheath of silver glitter. The audience, surprise surprise, are on their feet.

Photo: Roy Tan


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