Tina: The Musical at Aldwych Theatre
Jukebox musicals are the fluffiest form of theatre. They’re the much-demeaned backbone of the West End – fun, but not exactly well-equipped to deal with a topic as serious as domestic abuse. That makes Tina something of an odd proposition.
Ms Turner is undoubtedly an artist with more bangers than a butcher. But her traumatic – if ultimately rousing – rags-to-riches story jars with the genre’s singalong nature, especially given the breakneck pace of the Ike-focused first act. This speed is especially bizarre considering how much Katori Hall’s book slows down in the second half, which is entirely preoccupied with the minutiae of the singer’s post-divorce comeback.
Nowhere are the production’s troubles and triumphs more apparent than during the Proud Mary centrepiece. Starting with a drugged-up intro following the star’s overdose, the superlative Adrienne Warren tears up the stage in a dazzling display of heel-kicking bravado – until she stops. Tina can’t take it anymore, abandoning the song and igniting Ike’s tinderbox temper.
And here’s the problem: the couple begin to fight in a way that provokes whoops from the audience whenever the leady lady gets a lick in. Yes, it’s the moment the iconic performer finally escapes her husband; however, it’s also a horrible scene that leaves her bruised and bloodied, one muddied by cartoonish choreography and the freneticism of its backing track.
Warren is a relentlessly powerful presence on stage, to a fault. While she is perfect as diva-Tina in the second act, she is a smidge less convincing when rattling through the singer’s abusive first marriage. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, meanwhile, tries to inject some nuance – deserved or not – to Ike Turner. The character is preternaturally volatile and hyper-controlling, with Holdbrook-Smith maintaining a desperation behind his eyes – a fear of not being recognised – that adds an extra edge to Ike’s violence.
There are a few instances when director Phyllida Lloyd lands on a striking image: the dusty church revelry of Nutbush City Limits; how Warren belts out the end of Higher like an exhausted prayer; the freedom of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound in River Deep Mountain High, which gives the eponymous singer her first taste of standing alone. Yet these moments are too often brought back to earth by flat, gig-like staging elsewhere.
There’s no point pretending Tina transcends its jukebox origins; Hall’s book moves too quickly when it needs to take its time, only to stall when the narrative could use some pruning. And it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been made in 2018. But all that’s forgotten in the final moments with a slap in the face from arena-Tina, Warren tearing the house down in such a way that the show’s flaws are almost – almost – blown away.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is Aldwych Theatre from 21st March until 16th February 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.