I worship books. I love movies. I like music. But is there anything better than live theatre? And when it’s a wholly original piece, brilliantly performed, in a quaint seaside theatre and seen on your 19th wedding anniversary, with your wife, family and good friends, the whole experience takes some artistic beating.
Apphia Campbell wrote and performs Black is the Color of My Voice. For 75 mesmerising minutes, she stands alone on the small stage of the Marine Theatre in charming Lyme Regis, and she is Nina Simone.
In a virtuoso one-woman performance, she locks herself away in a dingy bedroom in an effort to battle her demons, and to reach peace with her dead father. Along the way, she plucks props out of a battered suitcase on the floor, and we gain insights into her troubled life.
Donning a hat, hopping up onto the spindle-leg table, crouching and adopting an exaggerated negro drawl, she becomes her bible-bashing mother.
An old frock reminds her of dancing with her beloved Daddy. Faded love letters are from her first – and lost – love. And those same letters introduce us to her jealous, violent, controlling fiancé Arthur.
But what persists through a damaged life is her music. At the age of just three, she has already assimilated how to play the piano. The proud family raise money to send her to college, and she is on track to become the country’s first black concert pianist.
And then she finds her voice. That smoky, bluesy, jazzy voice. The Devil’s voice, as her disappointed mother calls it.
But it gives her money, fame, and the ability to stand up and be heard in the long, bitter, violent fight for racial freedom in the entrenched racist southern states of the US.
Apphia Campbell is not only a gifted actor, she also has a damned fine voice. For the iconic songs, interlaced with key episodes in her troubled life, Nina Simone is on stage in Lyme Regis.
I Put a Spell on You; To Be Young, Gifted and Black; Mississippi Goddam; See line Woman and others are beautifully reproduced, with just a distant gramophone player occasionally accompanying the singular voice.
And Feeling Good brings down the curtain on a scintillating theatrical performance, leaving you humming those haunting rhythms as you head out into the Dorset night.
Apphia first performed Black is the Color of My Voice in Shanghai, in 2013. She’s bringing it to the UK now, on a short tour, until early November. Catch it if you possibly can, for a life-enhancing piece of live theatre.