BWW Review: THE COLOR PURPLE, Curve Leicester
Based on Alice Walker's 1982 novel and successive film in 1985, The Color Purple has enjoyed award-winning success, both for its original Broadway production in 2005 and then its revival in 2015. The show's first international production opened for a limited season in London in 2013 and, in a co-production between Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome, The Color Purple is currently delighting Leicester audiences.
Set in the American South, the book tells Celie's story spanning 40 years. Her turbulent childhood, leading into her abusive loveless marriage, is a traumatic tale, but over time she finds strength and peace through her family and surroundings. "Yes, I'm beautiful, and I'm here" is the strap line for the production and becomes one of the most poignant lyrics in the show.
Marsha Norman's book tackles a variety of dark themes, including race, sexism and abuse. Because of this, there needs to be some light relief, which comes in the form of a chorus of church ladies and in Sofia, a strong female character who is one of the lynchpins in finding Celie's strength. What initially seems like a cluster of hard-hitting themes stringing together a loose plot soon develops into an incredibly moving and powerful piece of storytelling, greatly aided by Tineke Craig's direction.
Alex Lowde's set design is effective in its simple framework. A huge wooden structure spans the width of the vast Curve stage, with a typical house-shaped piece flying out each side to reveal different settings. The texture of the woodwork gives Joshua Pharo a great deal to play with when it comes to the lighting and also a blank canvas on which to project.
Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray are the masterminds behind the show's score and lyrics, which boasts a gospel, jazz and blues vibe. The power comes from the more tender numbers such as "Too Beautiful for Words" and the mesmerising "I'm Here". Although "Push Da Button", performed by jazz singer Shug Avery in the juke joint, is a real show-stopper, with some great choreography from Mark Smith.
T'Shan Williams, who plays Celie, is a revelation. She is onstage for almost the entire show and the emotional journey she takes the audience on is remarkable. Her relationship with sister, Nettie (played by Danielle Fiamanya), is beautiful to watch and the two of them singing together is epic. In fact, the production is probably the best vocally overall that I've ever witnessed.
Joanna Francis as Shug is both a great performer and actress, bringing a warmth and electricity onstage. Sofia is played by the sassy Karen Mavundukure and her power moment comes in the shape of "Hell No!" during Act One. Ako Mitchell is a menacing Mister, but occasionally his energy can be a little misplaced or overenthusiastic at times.
A staggeringly emotive and rich performance delivered by an exceptional company.
The Color Purple plays at Curve in Leicester until 13 July and then moves on to Birmingham Hippodrome from 16-20 July.