Cush Jumbo's debut play is as bold and brave as its titular character: Josephine Baker. It is also bold and brave in that it is a one woman show, performed by Cush who also lays herself bare with some scenes that draw on her own life experiences.
As the unnamed 'I' she plays an actress whose life has reached a crossroads. On the one hand she is down to the final two in a casting for a breakthrough role in a US TV series, while on the other her loving and stable boyfriend is keen to start a family.
'I' has had a fascination with Josephine Baker since watching her in the film Zouzou as a child and so her chaotic personal and professional life is interwoven with Josephine's story from dancing in bars as a child to famous actress, singer and political activist.
Moving deftly between the two characters there are some parallels. Josephine Baker grew up in an America still segregated, moved to Paris where she enjoyed a life relatively free from racism and became a huge star only to return to the US and find herself being asked to use the back entrance of hotels she was staying at.
And there are other parallels too. Josephine Baker is exploited while a child performer and later has to make some tough decisions about nudity while 'I' recounts her first experience working on a film which involved three hours shooting a sex scene in which she was the only woman in the room.
But through it all is the music, dance and song of Josephine Baker and the blind determination to succeed. The dilemmas and decisions the star must have faced stand closely with those of modern career women
Cush Jumbo puts in a performance that is exhausting to watch even without the heat (the Bush is selling fans to use in the un-air conditioned theatre); Josephine's dance routines are as rhythmic as her actress is twitchy in her chaotic, career-juggling life.
A brilliant debut, performed brilliantly and with the only reference to the extreme heat being the odd gulp of water from a hidden bottle. Look forward to seeing what she performs and writes next.
Josephine and I runs at the Bush Theatre until August 17 and is 90 minutes straight through.
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