Review: Black is the Color of My Voice and Soul Sessions, Trafalgar Studios

A combination of stunning acting, exquisite vocals and a heart-rending, relevant story, Black is the Color of My Voice/ Soul Sessions is not one to be missed.

Apphia Campbell tells the story of Nina Simone completely alone on stage and set in one room, but takes you on a journey to another world. The whole production is a narration to her late father whom she deeply loves and is begging forgiveness from. You watch as you discover how Nina went from a child prodigy on the piano and destined to play for concert halls, to a key figure in the civil rights movement and a world-renowned singer. From comical stories about the first time she played piano at three, to traumatic experiences of abuse and rape. Not to mention the endless racism in America from 1930s to the 1970s. This play has you invested from beginning to end.

Campbell, who also wrote the play, captures the culture of a true gospel singing family throughout as you are plunged into this deeply discriminatory world through the eyes of Simone. The story flows effortlessly from each anecdote, accompanied by brief interludes of elegant singing. Campbell’s voice comfortably reaches every note but also has a richness in the deeper register that exudes a pleasing power. 

Campbell herself is utterly charming and captivating to watch. She performs with an infectious joy that leaves you loving her portrayal of Simone. The detail she produces in her performance is astounding and she never once slips up in the fast paced dialogue, especially when she embodies such contrasting characters within seconds of each other. This includes her elated mother singing down the street, to her enraged husband Arthur and then her own portrayal of a giddy Simone at 16. A well-practiced performance that is as quick as a formula one race and just as breathtaking.

The lighting by Clancy Flynn and sound by Tom Lishman and Joseph Degnan is extremely slick, making the whole production flow without a single hiccup. Both of these elements complement the piece very well and bring more dynamic to the play, making it ever more powerful.

On selected performances, Campbell continues the evening with Soul Sessions, where a separate ticket is required. I was fortunate enough to experience both of these short shows. Soul Sessions treats the audience to more songs and Campbell’s personal connection to her inspirational role model.

This part of the evening is a celebration of Simone’s life and encompasses a warm-hearted cabaret, a stark contrast to the serious first half of the evening and a lovely relief from the previous shocking facts of Simone’s life. It even includes a gentle sing-along that brings together the small room of The Trafalgar with hauntingly melodic tunes. 

Overall the whole evening is a complete delight and I was swept away from my own life for two hours. Instead I was completely involved with Simone’s. I believe this is the true power of theatre and look for all shows to be as captivating as this one.

Black is the Color of My Voice/ Soul Sessions is playing at The Trafalgar Studios until 2 March 2019. For more information and tickets, see the ATG Tickets website.