The Color Purple

This is one of those reviews where I thought, how do I capture this beautiful show in a few words.  You may well notice the overuse of the word beautiful whilst reading this, however it really is such an incredible show and I think ‘beautiful’ really does sum it up.

Based upon the novel written by Alice Walker, The Color Purple tells the story of Celie (Me’sha Bryan) and her many struggles in life.  The subject matter is very dark and there are trigger warnings listed to include incest, rape, overt racism and sexism, so bare that in mind should you be wanting to visit.  However, do not let that put you off as the story, albeit dark in places, does have happier moments that will leave you feeling contented.

The cast are quite incredible without a weak link to be seen.  Me’sha Bryan plays Celie with absolute star quality. Her fragility, her defiance and loving side shine through in her performance.  Bryan’s vocal ability is second to none and of course the big number synonymous with the show, ‘I Am Here’ was delivered with every emotion possible.  Celie’s sister Nettie is played by Aaliyah Zhane.  The show starts with the pair as children skipping around the stage.  The outpouring of love between them was easy to see. The pair become separated, and Celie spends most of her life believing that Nettie is dead, this however is not the case and is explained later in the story.

Celie is forced to marry Mister (Ako Mitchell) who is every inch a monster. Their marriage is not one of love, more as Celie being a domestic servant who is expected to cater to Mister’s every need.  Mitchell plays this role with such detest and as an audience member you instantly feel hatred towards him, testament of course to Mitchell’s portrayal of this complex character.

I must make mention of the opening scene and the style of music throughout the show brought to us under the musical direction of Ian Oakley and his very talented musicians.  It is a mix of Jazz, R & B, Blues and Gospel.  During the opening scene you are instantly transported to the bible belt of Tennessee with the joyous sound of gospel music, a true pleasure for the ears. 

There were three performers who every time they stepped on stage with their almost comical narration of what was unfolding, raised a laugh with the audience.  Karen Mavundukure (Doris), Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah (Darlene) and Esme Laudat (Jarene) were vocally perfect with harmonies that were velvet smooth, and it was a treat to see them each time they stepped on stage.  Another stand out performance came courtesy of Anelisa Lamola as Sofia, a no-nonsense woman who Celie aspired to be like.  Lamola strutted around the stage with enormous presence and absolutely owned every scene she appeared in.

The set design by Alex Lowde remains quite minimal throughout, with an almost barn like backdrop that opens up to display the church and Mister’s front porch, amongst other locations throughout the show.  

As the story moves on, Celie (Me’sha Bryan) meets Shug Avery (Bree Smith), an old flame of her husband Mister (Ako Mitchell) and they fall in love.  Their relationship is warm, full of love and you could feel the intensity between the two on stage.  Shug Avery is a character who does not stay in one place for long, however during her time with Celie she produces the many letters that her sister Nettie had written to her over the years, hidden by her controlling husband. The happiness displayed by Celie upon reading all the letters was heart-warming and you could feel a wave of joy as she knew she was still in her life, albeit living in Africa.

I do not want to spoil too much of the story for you as I really feel this is a show that you need to experience for yourself.  In summary, it is the most beautiful piece of theatre. In the depths of despair felt by Celie in her many dark and lifechanging moments, The Color Purple is a story of love, acceptance and forgiveness.  I could happily see this show again and again.

Director Tinuke Craig and Revival Director Lakesha Arie Angelo have created the most incredible show that the world needs to see!

This show was reviewed at the Birmingham Hippodrome on the 15th September 2022 where it runs until the 17th September 2022 before heading around the country on a Nationwide tour.  Tickets available here: https://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/the-color-purple-2/

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

 

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