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Following on from their production of Sunset Boulevard, Leicester’s Curve Theatre is back in our living rooms with another dazzling production, The Color Purple; reworking their 2019 production to create a concert performance for streaming. As the preshow countdown reaches zero, the screen burst vibrantly to life with invigorating gospel energy, as Sunday church begins.
Based on the novel by Alice Walker (and the 1985 Warner Bros. film of the same name) The Color Purple follows the toils of a young black girl in Georgia, Celie, who at fourteen years old is giving birth to her second child from her rape by her father. Separated from her sister she is forced to marry a cruel and violent man, but on this painful path she finds people whose inspiration helps her to see all the colour in the world.
Originally developed for Broadway in 2005, the musical’s book is written by Marsha Norman, with Music & Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. Honest to the original story in text, structure, and theme – the addition of music magnifies the soul of its multifaceted characters, whilst also adding a vivacious momentum to the narrative. The music experiments with rhythm and percussion exceptionally well, dynamically complimenting each character as they sing. Although there is a progression to the music throughout the show – growing more measured as the characters age – it all feels very cohesive and really fixes the story in both time and location.
Curve’s production was made in just ten days; granted it was a revisiting of a former production with much of the cast and crew still intact, but two years is a long time in the theatre world. With design by Alex Lowde, one greatly noticeable reduction in the performance is the set, leaving only a revolving stage and a few props in its wake. However, with the strength of the musical and its cast and nothing to hide behind, the lack of set only amplifies the beauty of this story, whilst the costume remains to fix the setting, much like the music.
Along with Choreography by Mark Smith, Tinuke Craig’s direction is exceptional. Using the revolve, they create a world that encircles Celie’s journey to womanhood; moments where she is surrounded by an ensemble of women give the impression of a guiding sisterhood and the spiritual connection which is so integral in her life. In the moment of Celie’s sexual awakening, Craig develops a beautiful balance between physical stillness and internal motion which charges the scene so intensely that it seems to replace a thousand words with the unspoken.
Within the exceptional cast there is simply no weak link, the story comes alive from the collective performances of each one of them playing their part to perfection. Leading the cast is T’Shan Williams, whose incredible voice and subtle emotional approach visibly develop Celie throughout the show. Critical supporting roles of Mister, Shug Avery and Nettie are delivered with immense talent and dexterity by Ako Mitchell, Carly Mercedes Dyer, and Danielle Fiamanya, Finally, the trio of Darlene, Doris and Jarene – much like a Greek Chorus, but instead narrating with church gossip in comic interludes – are perfectly timed and filled with character by Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah, Danielle Kassaraté and Landi Oshinowo.
This production of The Color Purple is stunningly uplifting; even through moments of heart wrenching sorrow, it brings a message of endurance, self-love and faith. Filmed without an audience, the lack of applause feels devastating, but I’ve no doubt that audiences everywhere will be applauding from their sofas for this breath-taking performance.
The Color Purple is streaming online until 7th March 2021. For more information and to book tickets, visit The Curve’s website.