The Color Purple officially opened at Curve this week. Co-produced by Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome and directed by Tinuke Craig, this production is essential viewing.
Based on the novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple is a story about the power of women and how their relationships with one another can cast light in even the darkest room. It’s a story about forgiveness, hope, and reaching deep to find strength in the face of the most horrific persecution and hardships.
At the centre of it all is a star that shines so brightly. T’shan Williams’ portrayal of Celie is phenomenal, and she deserves all the accolades I’m sure she’ll receive in abundance.
Present for almost the entirety of the show, her energy doesn’t falter once. Several moments during the show gave me goose bumps (no spoilers here), but none more than T’shan’s rendition of ‘I’m Here’. It’s a performance I won’t forget.
T’shan is supported by three fiercely talented women. They say that behind every woman is a team of other women cheering her on from the sidelines, and that’s very much the case for Celie.
Firstly, her sister Nettie (Danielle Fiamanya), who Celie is cruelly parted from for decades and is the first person in Celie’s life to show her love. The bond between these two characters and actors is beautiful to witness, and Danielle has a huge amount of stage presence that goes hand-in-hand with her stunning vocals and fantastic acting.
Secondly, the woman that Celie’s husband wishes he’d married – Shug Avery (Joanna Francis). Despite the circumstances, the women eventually forge an alliance that turns into an unlikely friendship that then blossoms into a romance. It’s a journey that is a pleasure to witness, and Joanna is absolutely perfect in this role, delivering light comedy relief when needed and hugely powerful numbers off immediately afterwards.
Thirdly, further light relief is provided through the role of Sofia (Karen Mavundukure), who marries Celie’s step son, Harpo. Despite being genuinely hilarious at times with tight comedy timing, Sofia is not without her own persecution and troubles, which at times makes for harrowing viewing. Karen does a fantastic job of conveying this.
However, as incredible as the four principle ladies are, they do not hold the stage on their own. Celie’s abusive husband Mister, played by Ako Mitchell, has magnificent stage presence. His character goes on his own journey, from cruel patriarch to repentant gentleman, and Ako does a stunning job throughout.
Simon-Anthony Rhoden and Delroy Brown were very well cast as Harpo and Pa. In fact, there isn’t a single weak link in this show as this is casting at its best, and it’s breath-taking what this cast of 17 has achieved. The passion from every member of the cast floods off the stage and is infectious. I certainly was not the only one in tears during the standing ovation, on or off the stage.
The sheer, unadulterated power and talent of the entire cast shines brightly enough to fill the entire auditorium, leaving neither need nor space for complicated sets, props or costumes. The set and costumes (Alex Lowde) are perfectly simple and totally fitting for the production. The development of Celie’s costume and style correlating with the development of her growth as a person and appreciation for herself is poignant and beautifully done.
I believe this is my first time watching a production directed by Tinuke Craig, but I will make sure it’s not my last. The Color Purple isn’t just a great show, it’s an education about the Civil Rights and LGBT+ movements, and ultimately a reminder of the importance of equality, freedom and kindness.
Put simply, this is one of the best productions I’ve ever seen and I firmly believe everyone needs to see it.
Reviewed by Rosie Bambury
Photo: Manuel Harlan
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