Ernest Hemingway described Josephine Baker as 'The most
sensational woman anyone ever saw'. A statement proved with
Newtonian strength thanks to Cush Jumbo's one-woman tour-de-force,
Josephine and I.
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia, The Iron
Lady), the staging is reminiscent of a 1930s Parisian jazz
bar, replete with cosy clusters of tables, bottles of wine in
high-multiples and ensconced by lascivious crimson curtains.
When it comes to theatre, there is quite possibly nothing the
spectacularly named Cush Jumbo can't do. The term 'triple threat' -
describing someone who can act, dance and sing - is like a
mini-skirt to the full-length gown of Cush's talents. Of course she
acts, (multiple parts played with equal conviction that command the
stage for the entire show). But she also sings and she dances. Oh
and if that wasn't enough, she also wrote the entire screenplay and
has comedic timing to match any stand-up.
Like the recent great biopics, (Robert Downey Junior's Chaplin
and Marion Cotillard's Edith Piaf both spring to mind), Cush
is Josephine Baker. No doubt weeks, months, possibly even
years of research went into this role as Cush appropriates every
facial tick, every angle of limb, celebrating Josephine; pioneer,
musical icon and political heroine the world over. And let's not
forget, the first ever African-American to star in a feature film,
Zouzou (1934). And, "not as the maid," quips Cush on
The night I saw the show, as the curtain closed the entire
audience rose to their feet for a thunderous standing ovation, only
slightly impeded by pauses to wipe streaming tears.
By Bridget Arsenault
Josephine and I is showing at the Bush Theatre until
Saturday 17th August 2013