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BWW Review: THE COLOR PURPLE - AT HOME, Curve@Home Online

The award-winning Curve Theatre/Birmingham Hippodrome production returns for online audiences

BWW Review: THE COLOR PURPLE - AT HOME, Curve@Home Online

BWW Review: THE COLOR PURPLE - AT HOME, Curve@Home OnlineThis gorgeous revival of The Color Purple feels timely in more ways than one: not only is the musical an apt piece of programming during Black History Month, but tonight's press night comes the same day as the conclusion of a long and drawn-out employment tribunal linked to a previous member of the cast, dismissed for their homophobic views.

This will, no doubt, have been a tricky period for all involved. That said, watching this stunning semi-staged production makes you instantly forget about all the past controversy.

Based on the 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple follows Celie (T'Shan Williams) as she navigates life, facing hardship, loss and abuse from a very young age. Celie learns what it means to find the strength to love and accept oneself amidst adversity, with the show covering everything from religion and race to sexism and sexuality.

A 1985 film adaption starred Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey and a movie musical is currently in the works. The stage musical first premiered on Broadway in 2005 featuring a book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray.

A notable export from the UK was the multi-award-winning Menier Chocolate Factory 2013 revival when it transferred to Broadway (along with its leading lady, Cynthia Erivo) in 2015. The fully-staged version of this filmed production was seen last year at Curve Theatre Leicester and the Birmingham Hippodrome, directed by Tinuke Craig.

Returning to the Curve's new expanded auditorium - check out our interview with the venue's CEO, Chris Stafford - it is such as shame that the cast does not get to have an audience in the room with them. As someone who doesn't live anywhere near Leicester, I'm thrilled that the production has been brought to a wider audience online.

Williams is just wonderful as Celie: endearingly reserved and withdrawn in her vulnerable scenes while reveling in moments of respite and realisation, particularly during "Miss Celie's Pants" and the heart-stopping "I'm Here". I challenge you not to be moved by the journey of this eleven o'clock number.

There are strong performances across the board. Danielle Fiamanya is delightfully determined as Celie's ambitious sister, Nettie. Ako Mitchell is a suitably sinister Mister, Karen Mavundukure steals scenes as Sofia, and Carly Mercedes Dyer glows as the glamorous Shug Avery.

Under the superb musical direction of Alex Parker, the musicians perform the emotive swells and toe-tapping grooves of the score, orchestrated by Martin Higgins and mixed through sound design by Tom Marshall. Mark Smith's choreography keeps everyone subtly socially distanced and brings us joyous movement in the bustling communal scenes.

The lighting is something else. Who knew there were so many shades of purple? Ben Cracknell's design elevates the narrative on stage and acts as an excellent device for facilitating the passing of time - aided by on-screen written prompts as well.

Craig's direction draws out every ember of emotion. The camera work direction by Jordan Dean is well thought out. Use of close-up shots to emphasise some of the male antagonists' dominance adds to the story, as do the occasional but effective use of overlaid graphics.

Breath-taking and beautifully shot, The Color Purple - At Home is a must-watch. For those missing the emotional release of live theatre, this version will shatter and warm your heart simultaneously.

Celie's story highlights how far we have come and how much work there is still to do for marginalised communities. The Curve Theatre continues to set a very high bar for what can be achieved in this new age of digital musical theatre for audiences at home.

The Color Purple - At Home available to view online until 7 March

Check out our interview with Tinuke Craig about directing the show

Photo credit: Pamela Raith


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