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Posts Tagged ‘Josephine Baker’

I hadn’t read any reviews, so my expectation was a biographical play about Josephine Baker – but this is a much more ambitious, complex, brave and multi-layered piece that truly wears its heart on its sleeve. It also features one of those rare virtuoso performances that stand alone regardless of the material.

What Cush Jumbo does is weave her personal story (some of the ‘current’ story is so personal, it surely can’t be entirely autobiographical?) with that of the extraordinary life of the icon. Cush became obsessed with Baker at an early age and we see her Josephine doll and her scrapbook. She finds parallels between their lives, notably the racism both experienced. She often switches between the character and her real self in mid-flow. At first this is all a bit puzzling, but it does find its rhythm and it’s surprising how much you learn about Baker’s life, albeit occasionally rushed.

Cush is both writer and performer and she’s lucky enough to have world-class director Phyllida Lloyd and world-class designer Anthony Ward to help provide a highly original, inventive and superlative staging. They’ve turned The Bush into a lovely night club with table seating on two levels (and chilli table cloths to die for!) and a bare stage which transforms with curtains and projections. There are props all over the place, which enables her to pick one up and move quickly into the next episode. On the side of the stage, pianist Joseph Atkins plays as both soloist and accompanist.

Whatever you think of the show, it is impossible not to be impressed by Cush’s passionate, energetic full-on performance. She can sing and dance as well as act. She has the ability to transform, to switch characters, to age and above all to connect with the audience whoever she is at that moment. I hardly took my eyes off her for 100 minutes. She has gone from a delightful turn in From She Stoops to Conquer at the NT to a thrilling one in Julius Caesar at the Donmar to this mesmerizing and extraordinary performance in just eighteen months. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is a very special actor indeed.

This has to be seen, so if you haven’t or haven’t planned to, you know what you have to do!

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