Soul Sister, a new musical about the life of Ike and Tina Turner hopes to 'balance the story out'

Emi Wokoma as Tina Turner

The cast in rehearsal

John Miller

First published in Theatre by

Most people’s stories are remembered for one or two incidents,“ explains theatre producer John Miller, “and with the Ike and Tina Turner story, if you asked anybody, they’d say Ike was a wife beater – that would sum up the story.“

For most, that opinion is formed in no small part by What’s Love Got To Do With It, about Tina’s life which focuses primarily on Ike’s abuse. Others may remember the release of Tina’s autobiography I, Tina, after which all attention was given to the grisly details of the domestic abuse she endured. Ike did beat Tina, but boiling their relationship down to that one point is to lose the bigger picture says John, whose new show Soul Sister comes to the Hackney Empire this week.

“The fact that they wrote, performed and recorded some of the greatest R’n’B tracks, ever, is sort of forgotten or is ignored. The fact that Ike was a great band leader and incredible guitarist gets lost. What we’re trying to do is to balance the story out.“

The production, which John devised with Pete Brooks and stars Emi Wokoma as Tina and Chris Tummings as Ike, follows the pair from their first meeting, through their meteoric rise through the ‘60s and ‘70s, their doomed marriage and Tina’s eventual re-emergence as international star.

“She was in shock after the film because she’d spent a year working on the scripts,“ remembers John, who met Tina at her manager’s office in Chelsea with the initial idea for the show, “and then they wrote what they wanted to write. She was pretty perturbed about what had happened with the film. She was hurt.“

John, who is producing the show with his wife Danya, was determined to tell the couple’s real story.

“What we’ve done is take a look at the relationship and tried to understand why Tina stayed with Ike for 20 years,“ says John. “If you were getting knocked around every day of the week you wouldn’t stay, there had to be more to the relationship – even after the split she has never condemned him completely.

“After they had their first hit they got romantically involved. One minute they were doing really well and then suddenly it’s all falling apart.“

Ike and Tina scored a slew of hits as a duo including River Deep – Mountain High, Proud Mary and A Fool In Love, all of which feature in the show. Ike ran a tight ship with his band, their performances aimed at showcasing Tina’s incredible vocal talents.

“At that time, Ike didn’t do any drugs, he didn’t even drink, and if any member of the band turned up drunk, he sacked them. He was a real stickler, a real disciplinarian and ran a very, very tight band. He booked the gigs, stage managed and organised everything.“

John has a theory, shared by many that knew him, that Ike was a paranoid schizophrenic.

“He had very abrupt mood swings. He’d be sitting there chatting then suddenly, bang. It wasn’t that he just hit Tina, he hit a load of people, or he’d pull a gun out of his pocket and wave it around. Then he’d calm down again.

“When he started using cocaine, it was like petrol thrown on a fire. Whatever control he had, he lost. It’s the period of their greatest success and it was the most destructive time in their relationship.“

Is there a danger of being too sympathetic to Ike?

“In his own mind he just didn’t get it. I’m not saying that makes it OK. He wasn’t a nasty vicious violent man he was schizophrenic and paranoid, he thought everybody was out to get him. But it doesn’t justify it. He was like a Shakespearian tragic-comedy figure who you look at and can’t comprehend how he exists in this world.“

Hackney Empire from April 14 to May 5. Details: 020 8985 2424

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