The Colour Purple – The Musical

Reviewer's rating

It’s quite some achievement to take a show that ran at Leicester’s Curve back in 2019 as one conceived to be mounted on a full stage with a set, props, and as much bodily contact as the piece called for and, within the space of just a couple of weeks, bring back the cast, get them up to speed with the material, and completely re-imagine the show to be one performed in the round, with the most minimal set and props and – taking account of the troubled times in which we live – socially distanced too.

But that’s exactly what the director Tinuke Craig and her talented team have been able to do with their production of the 2005 Broadway musical The Colour Purple, and though I might have an issue with the actual show, the production really is a masterclass in stagecraft.

The show covers forty years in the life of its protagonist, Celie, and the people she knows as she grows from abused victimhood to something approaching contentment with her looks and sexuality in the southern state of Georgia during the first half of the twentieth century

Celie (a magnificent T’Shan Williams who manages to tread a fine line between innocently vulnerable naivety and dullness) is serially raped by her abusive stepfather, a union that has produced two children, both of which he subsequently took from her and gave away.

She in turn is given in marriage to the physically abusive Mister (the scarily imposing Ako Mitchell), however, he holds a torch for a woman out of his league, the night-club singer Shug Avery (Carly Mercedes Dyer).

When Shug arrives, Celie has a sexual awakening and realises that she has feelings for the glamorous Shug.

Years pass – along with sub-plots – until the 1940’s when Shug is by now a successful big band singer, Celie has inherited a house and a shop from her now-dead stepfather and starts a business making trousers, and eventually, she is reunited with her long-lost children, learning to love herself and what she is.

I can’t stress enough that this is an excellent cast and if there’s one other person I’d single out for praise it would have to be Simon-Anthony Rhoden who plays Harpo, Mister’s son by his first marriage.

A special shout-out too for all at Crosscut Media who filmed the event. I watched The Phantom of the Opera filmed at The Royal Albert Hall last week and was virtually throwing things at the television due to the poor quality of the cinematography. This, however, works and works well.

However – and there’s always a ‘but’ and this is it – the musical was a book and a film before being written for the stage, and it feels like it stuck rigidly to both. As a consequence, the character of Celie is essentially a doormat for the first half-hour of the show and it’s very difficult to have any emotional engagement with a doormat.

The original show on Broadway was so garnered with nominations and awards as to make me very much in the minority, and I acknowledge that. But even I have to admit, this new staging has improved the production no end, so all power to their elbow