Josette Bushell-Mingo talks about her new show NINA – A STORY ABOUT ME AND NINA SIMONE and what inspired her to create this special piece of theatre

Following its London premiere at the Young Vic in July, NINA – A STORY ABOUT ME AND NINA SIMONE finally heads out on its UK tour, visiting Salford’s The Lowry next week for a four night run.

Inspired by the life and music of NINA – A STORY ABOUT ME AND NINA SIMONE is a searing and soulful piece of theatre. Featuring live performances of some of Nina Simone’s best-loved songs, the piece looks at the singer’s part in the Civil Rights Movement in 1960s America, as well as the struggles in her personal life and finds a parallel with the persisting inequality in today’s society.

Ahead of its performance at The Lowry on Tuesday 30 January, Swedish-based English theatre actress and director Josette Bushell-Mingo talks the show and why she was inspired her to create this special piece.

Many thanks for taking the time out to talk to us, for those readers that haven’t heard of you before, can you give me a bit about your background?

Well, I was born in the east end of London to working class parents from South America Guyana. I am the second daughter of four. None of my family are in the arts. In my last year at college I got a place at Breton University to study a BA in theatre but at the same time a theatre company called Kaboodle held a workshop at my college. After the workshop Kaboodle asked me to join- and the rest is history.

I was a young athlete – training in 100 metres, discus, shot put and relay and wrote short stories and poems at an early age – many were published.

Within my varied career, I have performed at the Royal National Theatre, RSC and the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester and I am an OBE and patron of the Unity Theatre. I am a guest professor at Washington University and Coventry University and currently artistic director for National Deaf Theatre of Sweden.

I’m 53, an Aquarian, read tarot and am allergic to apples.

What inspired you to create NINA – A STORY ABOUT ME AND NINA SIMONE?

I am not sure inspiration is the right word, it was more like I had f*ckng had enough.

A picture in the book – I am not your Negro, by James Baldwin – of a white soldier in 1900s, using a black child as a chair.

2015 was a year with so many deaths of Black people in the USA.

I was disgusted, afraid and appalled.

I knew I couldn’t do Nina without lifting her civil rights work, and thereby reflecting on where we are and how we got here and where art comes in and when is enough. Other activists inspired me, my travels between the USA; Sweden and England these last two years and also to African continent – Gambia – it all just landed. I was inspired by my lack of courage and the recognition that I could be brave and say things using NINA as my satellite navigation to guide me through the days…

What can people expect to see when they come to the show?

A fierce, uncompromising dialogue about love, forgiveness, black-ness and fighting back. A story woven within Nina’s extraordinary songs, shadows of her life and my own life too. You will see three extraordinary musicians. Joy and humour. The audiences can expect great concert and theatre experience that will be both complex and simple.

If you expect sing-a-long –a-nina you have booked the wrong show – but if you want to be brave stay with me!

How did it feel being nominated for a Laurence Olivier award for your role in THE LION KING?

Shocked and quite proud. It no small thing for a working class girl from nowhere.

Any words of wisdom for young aspiring actors and actresses out there?

I wish I did. I suppose what people said to me when I was young and in sports – never give up. Keep your eye on the prize.

What else have you got lined up for 2018?

Too much, I will be touring Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone in England throughout spring 2018 – there are plans for the tour to go America in the autumn. Preparation for two productions to direct in 2019, setting the repertoire for national deaf theatre Sweden, called Tyst Teater, I am chair women for Sweden’s biggest film festival and that’s in February, working to bring National Black Theatre of Harlem to Sweden, a documentary is being made about my work with Nina – starting my professor work at both Coventry and Washington and planning a long holiday in the summer – and that’s just January..

Jokes apart, it’s an incredible year ahead. I am happy and grateful and thinking of all the black voices I can give platform and support their voices through my work, remember those who we have lost and continue to witness and fight the racist structure that oppress us all..

As Nina Simone said ‘freedom is having no fear’.

NINA – A STORY ABOUT ME AND NINA SIMONE runs at The Lowry from Tuesday 30 January to Saturday 3 February 2018.