With such heavy themes attached to the story, Alice Walker’s 1982 novel probably never stood out to many as what one would call ‘musical material’. The last few years have seen the theatre industry take on a number of society’s controversial topics as fuel for new writing, it’s true, but this often leaves some audience members wondering where to draw the line. Rape, child abuse, incest, and domestic violence are just a few of the issues approached in this production. Enough, perhaps, to put some people off. But those that give it the chance it deserves are sure to leave feeling uplifted, with a warmer heart than before.
The show follows the story of Celie (T’Shan Williams), an African-American woman in early 20th-century America, who from a young age finds herself dealt the worst cards imaginable. Everything she holds most dear is ripped away from her, leading not only to a life of misery, but to one where even the presence of God is questionable.
Though the musical to an extent glosses over the horrifying depth of the main character’s abuse, the audience are given all they need to spend the entirety of the show rooting for Celie. Despite leaving out the more, shall we say, ‘gory’ details of Celie’s life, it is clear that director Tinuke Craig has gone to great lengths to avoid romanticisation of her abuse; a dangerous possibility in shows such as this, with heavier themes.
Falling somewhere between a fully staged musical and a concert performance, the production is a little slow to start. However, it eventually picks up the pace, engaging the audience with interesting staging, brilliant musical numbers, and jaw-dropping performances.
Williams is nothing short of stunning in the lead role. She brings the house down with powerful vocals, repeatedly demonstrated throughout the show. Additionally, her captivating acting abilities allow the audience to see the world from Celie’s perspective, achieving a perfect balance of great strength and incredible vulnerability.
Playing Williams’ onstage sister Nettie, Danielle Fiamanya also offers a star performance, maintaining a childlike sweetness, while boasting sheer determination and courage that grounds her sister when it is most needed. Bringing an angelic voice that fits perfectly with her co-star, the pair’s harmonies are made simply dream-like.
It has to be said, the entire cast create a stellar ensemble from start to finish. Whether at the forefront of a scene, or simply passing through the background, these performances are all ones to remember.
With so much worth mentioning, it is hard to pinpoint one standout feature. Perhaps the most moving is the show’s innate stillness. No part of this production requires extravagant sets or costumes. Instead, the delicacy and tenderness of the performance allows it to move seamlessly from scene to scene, all the while captivating the audience with the true beauty of stripped-back theatre, and the unmatchable power of the stories we see staged.
The Color Purple is a truly unmissable production that will leave audiences reminded of what really matters in life: perhaps the staunch reminder many of us need right now.
Written by: Marsha Norman
Directed by: Tinuke Craig
Musical Direction by: Alex Parker
Choreography by: Mark Smith
Music and Lyrics by: Brenda Russell, Allee Willis & Stephen Bray
Produced by: Made at Curve production in association with Birmingham Hippodrome
The Color Purple is available until 7 March 2021. See Curve online website for full list of times and dates.