Quick Change Review: The Colour Purple - At Home
★★★★★ “Hey sister, what you gonna do?”
The soft opening line of The Colour Purple always pulls my mouth upwards into a gooey smile, at the sight of the show’s beautiful sisters; Nettie and Celie.
Since our first viewing of The Colour Purple in 2019, the line has become interwoven into daily conversations between my sister and me. Now, having been mostly separated for the best part of the year, a solo viewing of The Colour Purple is bittersweet.
The story, based on Alice Walker’s novel of the same name, centres around Celie. Over a span of 30 years, we see her abused and raped by her stepfather, having her children ripped from her and sentenced to a torturous relationship with Mister, who erases Celie's beloved sister, Nettie, from her narrative. With the help of powerful women around her, Celie finds the strength to escape and becomes a fine businesswoman, before reuniting with Nettie, who was caught as a missionary in Africa and carries her family in tow.
Exploring race, religion, sexuality and power dynamics in early 20th century southern America, the resonance of the production today is still striking. A seemingly simple message at the core – you are worthy of kindness and respect.
Throughout, there is a light held as a beacon of hope for the safe reunion with a loved one.
Curve’s production of The Colour Purple in association with Birmingham Hippodrome is spectacularly reimagined for the digital stream. The elegant camerawork places you right beside Celie with every step she takes to realising her own beauty and stepping into her light.
Image by Pamela Raith
Close angled shots perfectly capture the emotions in the eyes of the formidable cast; with T’Shan Williams positively perfect as Celie, Danielle Fiamanya thoughtful and loving as Nettie, and Karen Mavundukure’s divinely unapologetic Sofia. Carly Mercedes Dyer is a true vision as the devilishly brilliant, infamous Shug Avery. Scenes shared between Williams and Dyer are devastating – heart-swelling and gorgeous. The two women stand together with courage and pride.
The male leads are sweating and sour, their harmonisation is that of a pack, leering and lurking. Wonderfully contrasting are the show-stealing ensemble of Church ladies who idly tattle and gossip as informal narrators in Sunday best. This is a company so tight, so together and so invested in this story that tells itself through the sheer emotion of their performance.
Thread together with minimal speech, the delightful score by Harold Arlen pulses with the vibrancies of life. A delicious palette of deep blues, rollicking rhythm and suave swagger teetering between sleazy and seductive. Sofia’s ‘Hell No!’ is mighty fine, a ballad of self-respect. Whereas Shug Avery’s ‘Push Da Button’ pulses with passion and allows a fulfilling performance of joyous choreography. Act Two opener, ‘African Homeland’, is beautifully humbling – a swirl of blue, painting vast landscapes with the sound of traditional drums, crickets and whispering trees.
Of course, ‘Too Beautiful For Words’ is a lullaby that will etch on its heart and is delivered with an ease and vulnerability by Dyer.
Williams' ‘I’m Here’ is full of conviction. That song, that performance. With it, a star emerges.
Image by Pamela Raith
Ben Cracknell’s lighting elevates and extends the voices of the characters struggling to have theirs heard. Exquisitely designed, the stage is drenched in sepia hues of orange and purple capturing every line of emotion mapped on the faces of the characters tracing back the stories they are sharing. Warm tones touch the skin of women as they radiate their beauty from the inside out, the spotlights beam down on moments of glory, and capture stolen moments of intimacy. The lighting expresses love that spans continents.
Yet the light, with the absence of any set design at all, also manages to extenuate the frustrated rage of our male leads. It highlights the shadows of their inner power struggles and the darkness that brews inside a person when they are unkind.
Another production forced to be staged for online viewing, The Colour Purple’s messages of self-love, powerful relationships and the simplicity of kindness and its return is poignant and beautiful.
Even when performed with distance, the intimacy is luscious. Staged at its bare bones, the auditorium is full of love. Viewed away from your nearest and dearest, the words are a comfort.
"I've got my sister, I can feel her now. She may not be here, but she's still mine...”
The Colour Purple is available to stream from now to 7th March. Buy your tickets, here.