Josephine and I by Cush Jumbo – 2013

Characters: Josephine Baker and Girl. 

Synopsis: Drawn from her own love for Josephine Baker, this play follows the life of a young actress whose love for old movie stars and ambition to be one herself, grows stronger once she found one that looked just like her. The play weaves in and out of Josephine and the Girl’s life, showing the rise and fall of Josephine’s success and the Girl’s own up and coming success. It also posses a really important question, what really is success? 

Available from: National Theatre. 

My Thoughts

This one woman play was so much fun to read, it’s funny, it’s bubbly, it’s fast paced and all good things. It made me think of my love for Nina Simone, how I would love to do a rendition like this honouring her. At the start of the play Girl mentions her discovery of Josephine, that every Sunday afternoon she would sit in front of the TV watching beautiful sassy soft-haired white women like Jean Harlow, Ginger Rogers and Marylin Monroe and this made her want to be a star. But one Sunday she sees a woman with all those characteristics who looks exactly like her, in “a cast of completely white people who didn’t seem to notice at all. And she wasn’t the maid. She was the star”. As a black woman who has gone through this at university, after years of feeling like an odd ball for not having an idol that actually looked like me. The feeling of finally discovering someone you can relate to is amazing feeling. Nina Simone was unapologetically black, unapologetically radiant, unapologetically beautiful and unapologetically a woman, she represents to me everything Josephine represents to Girl. They were both courageous women paving the way for more courageous women to follow.

“I used to put a sweater on, take my arms out of it, pull it back over my head like it was blonde silk and hair”. When I read this quote I immediately started to laugh as I remembered my own antics as a child, and I think that many black girls may also relate to this. I find it interesting that, even though I was born and raised in Portugal until the age of nine the experience of being a black girl growing up in the West are somewhat universal (particularly when hair is involved). I would always put a top on my head and pretend I was a beautiful princess with long luscious locks. The concept of long flowy hair being the right kind of hair, followed and haunted me well into my late teens. 

This play gives an analysis of Josephine’s personal life before her career set off and after, she is successful until she is forgotten until she loses her fortune. As an actress myself, someone who wants to be successful in the artistic field, what Josephine never stopped doing was performing before and after her rise. So what I can take from this is that regardless of where it takes me, my passion should never stop, fade or be determined by people may think.

Josephine: My doctor recommends four months’ rest. I’m back onstage by the end of the week! We are sold out weeks in advance.My young troupe can’t keep up with me…I’m carrying thirty-four years on one shoulder and thirty-five on the other. What’s your excuse?