This powerful musical based on Alice Walker’s novel of the same name is given new life in this raw concert production filled with dynamic performances.
With themes of incest, rape, domestic violence at the centre of this dark story, it is incredible to even imagine that there is a happy ending that could exist for Celie and her sister Nettie. But somehow this musical manages to uplift the audience through colourful and vibrant songs and the way in which the story adapts and unfolds from beginning to end.
Featuring a book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray, The Color Purple may seem brutal on the surface – but it also manages to ensure that themes of sisterly bond, love and friendship are also retained.
Directed with great fluidity and heart by Tinuke Craig, all of the musical numbers are filled with soul and emotion that give real insight into the characters. In particular, ‘I Curse You Mister’ is filled with all the drama, pain and anger that you could want as Celie (performed with great spirit by T’Shan Williams) rages at him – the staging is simple but allows the characters and story to really take centre stage. There is such contrast musically particularly when watching and listening to the tender and heartbreaking ‘Somebody Gonna Love You’ that is made the most of and celebrated in this concert production.
This is further enhanced by the joyous choreography by Mark Smith that also helps to break the tension in the more dramatic scenes. Meanwhile some of the way in which the production is captured on film allows for the illusion of characters connecting quite well – such as when violence breaks out.
This being said, due to the various restrictions in place, you can’t help but feel that the lack of physical contact between the cast in some important moments does affect the emotional core of the story- when characters are reunited for example, the distance can make it feel difficult for the audience to really engage emotionally. Of course, this is not the cast or creative team’s fault – it is the way in which things are and everyone does a sterling job of still being able to catch the spirit of the show despite this.
What makes this concert production so compelling to watch is the fact that it is so simply staged, allowing the rawness of the emotions and journey that Celie goes on from young woman to a woman who stands up for herself and actively reclaiming her future away from abuse and violence to shine through. Ben Cracknell’s striking lighting design beautifully enhances each scene in a vibrant way.
The production is very consistent in the way in which it portrays the complex nature of the relationships not only between Celie and Mister but also between Celie and Shug, thanks to the dynamic and memorable performances from the cast. T’Shan Williams as Celie really delves deep into the character to highlight so many elements of the character’s personality beautifully, while Danielle Fiamanya provides a sweetness to Nettie that is a pleasure to watch. There is great support from Ako Mitchell as Mister, who manages to find layers into a character who could be simply a one note bully who finds redemption to a character who suddenly realises the consequences of his actions in a surprisingly moving rendition of ‘Mister’s Song’. I also adored Perola Congo’s charmingly sweet and funny portrayal of Squeak that offers some lovely lighter moments as well as Karen Mavundukure’s spirited and no-nonsense Sofia.
This concert production of the musical is well worth catching for the performances alone – but it is another incredible testament to the work of all those at the Curve Theatre to deliver such a high quality production to entertain audiences at home. The power of theatre as shown here should not be underestimated.
By Emma Clarendon
The Color Purple – at home will be streamed until the 7th March. For more information and to book tickets visit: https://www.curveonline.co.uk/whats-on/shows/the-color-purple-at-home/