REVIEW: THE COLOR PURPLE @ THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH
🎭 The Color Purple
📍 Theatre Royal Plymouth, Royal Parade, Plymouth, Devon, PL1 2TR
🗓 Thursday 29th September 2022
A TRULY BREATHTAKING PIECE OF THEATRE
I booked a last minute ticket to see The Color Purple at the Theatre Royal Plymouth last night and I'm so glad I did. As someone who had never read the novel or seen the movie on which this musical is based, I had no idea what to expect but I was blown away with every aspect of this production, which is a collaboration between the Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome.
The Color Purple opens in 1913 and follows main protagonist Celie who at this point is pregnant with her second child and is aged just 14. The story is far too complex to really share in this review but in a nutshell we follow Celie through her life as her stepfather takes her children away from her (he has fathered the children) and she is split from her sister and married off at 15. She is beaten by her husband but meets some inspirational women throughout her life which finally gives her the confidence she needs to leave her violent life and make something of herself. Eventually she is reunited with her sister and her children. The story closes in 1945.
Me'sha Bryan leads the cast as Celie and is breathtaking to watch. She completely inhabits the part and whether she is in her teens or her 40's, you unequivocally believe her characterisation. You feel every single emotion and her portrayal is beautiful and sensitive. Her innocence as a youngster and growth throughout are utterly believable.
What was unexpected about this production was the subdued nature of it. You expect a musical to be filled with high octane performances and although there were powerful vocals, the tone of the production was set at a certain level and was carried throughout. This was an interesting and actually a rather clever choice I thought. It was as if there was to be no celebration of telling a story that had things such as rape, domestic abuse and oppression as its subjects.
Normally this subdued nature is not something I would enjoy, but I think that this brave decision worked wonderfully in this production. It wasn't just the singing but the acting also matched this tone. This artistic choice actually drew the audience in more and it's arguably harder for the actors to perform in this way.
Celie becomes friends with Sofia who is a strong and confident woman. She instantly leaves her husband when he raises his hand to her. Her performance of Hell No! can only be described as epic. It was like an early example of Girl Power! Portrayed by Anelisa Lamola who has a strong voice, Sofia becomes a broken woman throughout the story and the acting portrayed by Lamola was absolutely stunning. When she is in jail and has been beaten, you almost feel your heart ripped out by her sublime portrayal.
This show is filled with exceptional strong female characters and Shug is no exception. Shug comes into the story and completely upturns Celie. The relationship that develops between the two is intimate and beautiful to witness. Celie does not have a lot of confidence in herself and after constantly being told she is ugly by her brutish husband, Shug sees her beauty. The character is played by Bree Smith who gives a standout performance of the song Too Beautiful For Words. As the story develops and their relationship intensifies, it's almost as if Shug is scared of her feelings for Celie and although the friendship endures, the romantic relationship does not.
As Act 1 draws to its conclusion, Celie learns that her sister Nettie is alive after believing that she was dead for a number of years. This is one of the very few moments that the tone is elevated throughout as she screams with joy at this news. The other elevated moments also come from Celie and they tend to be after the character has left her husband. The ending of Act 1 was really strong and I was genuinely intrigued to find out how this story was going to develop.
I wasn't the only one and there was a moment before Act 2 commenced which I have never experienced in the theatre before. The house lights were still up and you could hear the musicians warming up for the second act as the safety curtain was lifted. As this happened, the entire auditorium fell silent. I have never experienced silence while the house lights were still up before. This is testament to how beautifully and confidently the story was being told and much the audience wanted to find out the conclusion.
The role of Mister was portrayed by Ako Mitchell. Mister is the thug like husband of Celie. Also known as Albert, he is not a nice character at all but after Celie leaves him you do witness a change in him. He gives a very convincing performance of Mister's Song and you believe in the emotion portrayed, but at the same time you don't care! You are so on side with Celie that it's like he's finally receiving his comeuppance. His character arc though is a wonderful watch and when he asks Celie to marry him again you can really see the change in him.
There was no weak link in this cast and other notable performances came from Ahmed Hamed as Harpo, Aaliyah Zhané as Nettie and Jimad Allotey as Squeak.
There is so much I could talk about within this show but I don't want to fill this review with too many spoilers and similarly, I don't think a reader wants to read a break down of every single scene and every single song either! It's just that this show is exceptional in every way and, somewhat heartbreakingly, it's so relevant even today. We're well over 100 years on from where this story begins and yet there are still these groups that are being persecuted simply for the colour of their skin. You hear audible gasps and see noticeable head shakes from the audience at certain points throughout and it's shocking that these things are still happening today.
Everything from the direction and choreography to the costume and lighting designs are spot on in this production. Bring the simplistic but very clever set design into the equation and you've got a perfect cocktail of production which come together to tell this story in an exceptionally heartfelt way.
The entire audience were on their feet at the end and gave loud cheers alongside the well deserved standing ovation.
The Color Purple is not in your face in terms of staging or big booming vocals, but it shines a light on important social issues and is exquisitely told. It is a shame that there seemed to be quite a lot of empty seats in the auditorium as this production is filled with beautiful storytelling, exceptional vocals and some of the best acting I've ever been privileged to witness. This show deserves to be sold out every night and if my review convinces just one person to book a ticket, then I'll be very happy!
The Color Purple is showing at Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 1st October and then continues its national tour. Book tickets and you won't be disappointed.
All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest and free from influence.