The Color Purple***** (Menier Chocolate Factory, 2 August 2013)

Posted: August 3, 2013 in Theatre

We can wait months, even years for a new American musical to arrive in London, so two in three days have made this a week that is truly blessed! Like “Titanic”, this show won awards and had a long Broadway run and, similarly, the production has been scaled down for a small space, but comparisons end there. “Titanic” had a traditional Broadway score; music in “The Color Purple” is blues/gospel inspired and, even if some of the lyrics and tunes are slightly bland, their overall freshness carries them through. Based on Alice Walker’s novel set amongst the black community in America’s Deep South between 1914 and 1945, this is a story of various forms of slavery after the end of actual slavery, self-empowerment and redemption. It is a huge novel and the first half of the show crams in too much plot with characters appearing briefly before disappearing and everything seeming to move much too quickly; however, by the interval, the main characters have established themselves and the second half moves at a steadier pace with many more fully-developed scenes that are both powerful and moving.  Nicola Highes, Christopher Colquhoun and Sophia Nomvete stand out amongst a uniformly excellent company, but this production belongs to Cynthia Erivo in the central role of Celie. Ageing from young girl to middle-aged woman, displaying desperation, defiance and joy to equal effect, diminutive but with a voice to lift the roof, she gives what is likely to be seen as the performance of the year and it is she who clinches the elevation of this show to five-star status. The Menier is configured as never before, with a stunningly-lit  plain wooden stage, the audience on three sides and only chairs and a white sheet are used as props. The contribution which this small theatre is making to enhancing the quality of musical theatre in London (and beyond) is now more than astounding, it is bordering on phenomenal.

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