Sunday, 5 May 2013

Interview: Nina Kristofferson, starring in The Billie Holiday Story at the Charing Cross Theatre

Nina Kristofferson is currently starring  in her one woman show The Billie Holiday Story at the Charing Cross Theatre. The current London run follows a sell-out run at the Edinburgh Festival in 2011 and a tour of the UK in 2012. This musical play is a cocktail of songs and stories from Billie Holiday’s life woven through the haunting memories that plagued her featuring her greatest hits: God Bless The Child, Lover Man, Strange Fruit, Don’t Explain, All of me and many more.

Nina’s extensive theatre and TV credits include playing Billie Holiday in “I Cover the Waterfront – The Spirit of Billie Holiday” (Nottingham), Medea in “Medea” (Northern Broadsides UK tour), Bess in “Porgy & Bess” (USA), Cleopatra in “Anthony & Cleopatra” (Birmingham), Liz Imbrie “In High Society” (Regent’s Park & West End) and Paula Symons in “Doctors” for the BBC.

How is the London run of The Billie Holiday Story going so far? 
It’s going really well and I am loving my time here at the Charing Cross Theatre. April sold out and May is selling extremely well. Audiences are really enjoying the show, feedback has been phenomenal. People who come to see the show say they don’t know what to expect but soon get sucked into the story and taken on a journey, they love the music and feel like they are taken back in time. 

Are you enjoying performing at the Charing Cross theatre? 
Yes, it is a lovely, cosy and intimate theatre which enables me to get a good feel for the audiences who have been so responsive! At times I throw some questions to the audience and get a few reactions back which goes down a treat and makes it quite a personal experience! 

If people are thinking of coming to see the show, what can they expect? 
They will learn a lot about Billie Holiday. The story takes you on a journey accompanied by great music and a fantastic five-piece jazz band led by Allan Rogers who is the musical director and pianist. The audience sees the layering and peeling away of Billie’s emotions, why she went through certain things, what happened to her and the effects on her, all interlaced with her wonderful music. 

You started the show in Edinburgh before touring and then opening the show in London. Has the show developed at all? 
To begin with it was a full script; however, the script had to be cut to 50 minutes for Edinburgh. Then we changed it slightly for the tour. There was still no interval and no encore which have been added for this London run. The storyline itself hasn’t really changed. It was a huge success in Edinburgh and has continued to be just as popular. It’s wonderful playing to a packed house every night! 

Alexandra Burke & Nina Kristofferson
How do you keep your performance fresh night after night? 
Like Billie, I don’t really perform the same every time which is the only way I can be organic. I let the lines speak for themselves, and because I am reacting with the audience they sometimes set a tempo and I try to drive the energy through it. I love playing the role because it is meaty, the dialogue is great and the music superb. Also, the musicians never do exactly the same either so we all have to listen very carefully to each other. With all that going on we get very enthusiastic and I become totally engrossed in the character, delivering the emotions, and it almost takes on a life of its own. 

You have had an amazing career - you have done everything from plays to jazz and opera. Is variety important to you? 
Yes, I think variety is important to me but it wasn’t planned. I could always sing, I went to drama school, and the first role I got was a musical play. Then I did some acting, then another musical and so on. Then I found that when I wasn’t doing one or the other I missed it so I kept it all going and have been very lucky to be able to maintain a balance and variety. It’s hard work and you have to enjoy it in order to pass on a good experience to the audience. I love opera which is a different field altogether and you have to have a different mindset. You can bring to opera some of the tools which you bring to jazz, but technique and the timbre of the voice are completely different. 

What advice would you give to aspiring performers who would love to be in your position? 
Work, work, work! I still do classes in order to keep myself on form, I keep a critical eye on myself which, hopefully, helps me to raise my game. So, when you are not working it’s a good idea to attend classes to keep yourself fresh and up to date. Also, seeing as many shows as you possibly can is a good thing to do, as well as reading – in other words, absorb as much as you can, when you can. 

What would you like to say to everyone who has supported you throughout your career? 
Words can’t really express what I would like to say! I would like to say a big massive thank you because I wouldn’t have got to where I am now without people's support. I am so grateful to all my friends, having people supporting you and believing in you is so important. Thank you!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

The Billie Holiday Story runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until 25th May 2013. 
Click here to save £12 when booking tickets (valid all performances)

Photo Credit 1 - Eric Richmond
Photo Credit 2 - Joanne Davidson

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