The Billie Holiday Story

Theatre, West End
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The Billie Holiday Story

A beautiful singer, wearing a dress dripping in sparkles, shoots up as she prepares to sing. Behind her, New York skyscrapers rise up and morph into ugly taunting faces and a dull heart beat thuds in the distance.

Nina Kristofferson’s one-lady-show tries to pull us into the bluest side of Billie Holiday's career: the drugs, rage and fear that trembled behind that extraordinary voice. But Kristofferson’s performance, although committed and passionate, feels really self-conscious.

And her edgy script is too obscure and perhaps too angry. As it jolts defiantly between scattered anecdotes, Kristofferson struggles to find her rhythm. Director Ben Woolf peppers the production with odd bursts of ‘atmosphere’: babies cry and lights throb ominously – these moments add up to little and only enhance the shaky atmosphere.

Even the most mellifluous songs, such as ‘A Fine Romance’, feel forced. All of Holiday’s infamous tics are carefully observed; the mannered swooping and the singing so relaxed, it feels like chatting. But Kristofferson spends so much time mimicking Holiday that she forgets to just open her mouth wide and sing. Miriam Gillinson



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