Soul Sister @Hackney Empire
Originally published: Hackney Citizen
Consolidating thirty years of history into just over two hours of crowd pleasing song and dance, Soul Sister introduces Emi Wokoma as Anna Mae Bullock (renamed Tina when she began performing with Ike Turner), who has done well to lay down sturdy foundations for a glittering career ahead.
Wokoma’s characterisation of the Queen of rock ‘n’ roll is seamless in its mimicry; she’s got the voice and the moves down to a T, but transcends mere Stars in Your Eyes frivolity on account of her convincing ability to tell a story.
Although elsewhere acting plays second fiddle to the music, Soul Sister is by no means narrative-lite. The ups and downs of Ike and Tina Turner’s turbulent relationship run parallel to key social movements like the Civil Rights Movement and feminism, serving up historical soundbites which add weight and context to the storied life of this storied singer.
The curtains open to a sequined adorned Turner in the 80s; the final click in the chain of a show which spans three decades of music making – perfectly executed by the band and Ikettes backing singers – ensuring every preference is catered for.
Wokoma belts out an enthralling, lung blasting rendition of ‘Private Dancer’, before the clock winds back to the 50s and we see a young Turner fleeing her hometown of Nutbush for the bright lights of St.Louis.
It’s in St.Louis that Tina meets Ike (Chris Tummings) – who quickly snaps her up as the frontwoman in his band – and she accordingly becomes his wife. Turner maintains her love for Ike even as he falls prey to drug use and domestic violence and we watch as he spirals out of control and their marriage falls apart.
The soundtrack moves through 60s hits like ‘River Deep – Mountain High’ – which comes with a cursory warning from producer Phil Spector who urges Turner to leave her husband – and 70s megabolts like ‘Proud Mary’ before rounding things off with a newly emancipated and empowered Turner in the 80s, who gets the audience up on their feet for final banger ‘Simply The Best’.
It’s a show-stopping end to a visual sonic feast which leaves little to the imagination but cares a lot for the soul.