17 February 2021

The Color Purple At Home Review.

Following the hugely successful Sunset Boulevard in Concert, that ran over the Christmas period, Curve and The Birmingham Hippodrome bring audiences The Color Purple At Home. This latest offering of online streams whilst theatres are unable to open is right up there with the very best that theatre can offer. 


Tinuke Craig's award-winning production is brought back to life following its 2019 run with such skill in adapting to the social distancing guidelines. The use of the revolve that Curve had donated to them by Sir Cameron Mackintosh is tremendous. It creates a circular stage which allows the camera to get right up close to the action and capture every emotion on the actor's faces. The use of the revolve allows the actors who aren’t in the current scene to sit around the circle and in turn become an audience. 


The cast of The Color Purple at Home. Photo by Pamela Raith


Marsha Norman's adaptation, based on the original novel by Alice Walker, tells the quite brutal story of Celie in 1920s America and the struggles she must overcome. Along the way, she faces racism, incest, domestic abuse, poverty and sexism. Whilst this might sound like a tough watch, and at times it is, it's also a beautiful story of a woman finding her self worth. That message of hope and resilience is ever more so relevant as we continue in the fight against the pandemic. 


Right from the opening number, the joyously gospel 'Mysterious Ways', I was hooked. There are not many shows that sound this good, you will not find a better company of voices. The music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray mixed gospel, soul and musical theatre. Martin Higgins brilliant orchestrations and the 7 piece band under the musical direction of Alex Parker create a beautiful sound. Sound designer Tom Marshall keeps the production rooted in its American roots with a lovely undercutting soundscape.


Crosscut Media's cinematography is really top drawer. At times the characters break the fourth wall and address the camera directly, at other times the camera becomes one of the characters. That feeling when a character is looking directly into the camera delivering a line or performing a number really feels like they’re talking just to you.


The whole creative team have done a sterling job. Visually in terms of design, there are minimal props, so it turns to the Alex Lowde's costumes and Ben Cracknell's majestic lighting to bring the world of the show to life and it's gorgeous to look at. Mark Smith's choreography packs a real punch. I don't think this production could have been staged or captured in a better way in these difficult circumstances.


T'Shan Williams (Celie), Ako Mitchell (Mister) and Danielle Fiamanya (Nettie). Photo by Pamela Raith

T'Shan Williams is the linchpin of the production as Celie and what a star she is. Vocally she's outstanding, boy she can belt out when it's required but it's also her fragile moments that are just as stunning. Her characterisation is tremendous, you feel every word. I watched on in stunned silence as she sang 'I'm Here'. There's another star turn in Danielle Fiamanya's portrayal of Celie's sister Nettie. She is fantastic to watch. Together T'Shan's and Danielle's voices and harmonies blend together perfectly. 


Carly Mercedes Dyer is in her best form as Shug Avery, a club singer and love interest for Celie. Her arrival around 45 minutes into the first act really adds a lovely new dynamic. Carly has such a rare skill of capturing a character so well. There are strong performances throughout the company but  Ako Mitchell as Mister, Karen Mavundukure as Sofia and Simon-Anthony Rhoden as Harpo all stand out. A special mention should go to Anelisa Lamola for her astonishing vocals. 


T'Shan Williams (Celie) and Carly Mercedes Dyer (Shug Avery). Photo by Pamela Raith

The only thing missing from this production is the audience. That pin drop silence at the end of some of the musical numbers is deafening. A reminder that we're not able to the thing we love. I, unfortunately, didn't get to see the production live so I can only imagine how much the audience must have roared with appreciation. I always find seeing empty theatre's moving but something about this piece, especially the final sequence as you can see and feel the raw emotion of the actors and seeing the Curve's spaces captured so well deeply moved me.


Sometimes theatre stirs the right emotions inside you and this production of The Color Purple reminded me of everything I love about theatre. Powerful storytelling, delightful soul-filling music and a top-notch cast. I was taking notes for this review as I watched and I got to the end and simply wrote WOW in capital letters. I'm certainly going to book to watch it again before the run ends. 


Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ - a powerful and perfect production for these current times. Unmissable.


The Color Purple at Home streams from Curve online until Sunday 7th March. Tickets can be purchased from www.curveonline.co.uk


The cast of The Color Purple at Home. Photo by Pamela Raith


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