Reviewed by Nikki Cotter
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Back in 2019 I was lucky enough to watch The Color Purple during its original run at the Birmingham Hippodrome, one thing that struck me, (amongst many others) was how perfect this production would be for the Lowry’s Lyric theatre; 3 years later I can finally confirm it’s as stunning as I’d hoped.
Based on the much-loved novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple was adapted into a film in 1985, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. Next, came the Broadway musical adaptation in 2005 with a critically acclaimed revival following in 2015 starring Jennifer Hudson and Cynthia Erivo. It’s recent presence in the UK has been a difficult one largely due to the emergence of the pandemic but now thankfully, opening night at The Lowry marks the shows 4th successful stop on its current UK tour.
This powerful story told over the course of 40 years introduces us to Celie, an oppressed Black girl from the Deep South as she journeys through life in a bid to discover her own sense of purpose. There’s joy, heartache, kindness, and cruelty as Celie discovers the voice within amidst the chaos that surrounds her.
Me’sha Bryan is superb as Celie, leading the cast with true heart and emotion. She draws you in immediately with her warmth and loving spirit, taking you on this journey with her; you want her so desperately to succeed & find the happiness she so richly deserves. Aaliyah Zhané plays Celie’s ambitious little sister Nettie wonderfully, her time on stage is impactful and helps drive the themes of love and loyalty beautifully.
Bree Smith is a joy as Shug Avery, oozing charm and inner confidence, she’s the ray of sunshine and chance at happiness Celie so desperately needs. The chemistry between both Bryan and Smith is perfect, their performance of ‘What About Love’ at the close of Act 1 is both powerful and emotive.
Special mention must go to Anelisa Lamola who gives a knock-out performance as Sofia. Her fearless rejection of the violence she experiences in ‘Hell no,‘ is hugely significant. Her characterisation is incredible, she embodies Sofia entirely, giving us both laugh out loud hilarity and crushing heartbreak with nuanced vulnerability, she is mesmerising .
While it’s the women who take centre stage there are also some excellent male performances which mustn’t go unmentioned. Ahmed Hamad gives a wonderfully charismatic performance as an unassuming Harpo while Ako Mitchell as Mister, delivers a truly difficult character flawlessly, sinister and cruel his characterisation is perfect making his learning curve all the more significant.
This story is emotive, at times dark and upsetting but this joint production from the Birmingham Hippodrome and Curve Leicester (with book by Marsha Norman) leaves us in no doubt who the true heroes are and offers much light amongst the shade. The journey Celie goes on is inspiring as she overcomes adversity through the strength she takes from the relationships she builds within her life.
Tinuke Craig and Lakesha Arie Angelo have directed this piece with care and creativity while Alex Lowde’s set and costumes are gifted incredible lighting and video design from Joshua Pharo ensuring the source material is given the absolute best opportunity to shine.
This deeply moving piece of theatre is delivered by an exceptional cast. The strong leads are supported by an incredible ensemble who bring life and light to the stunning harmonies within the score. The voices amongst this cast are honestly worth the ticket price alone, they are sublime. Special mention here to the magnificent trio of ‘gossip girls’ a modern-day Greek chorus who are an absolute joy, played at tonight’s performance by Karen Mavundukure, Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah and Kayla Carter.
The Color Purple is a beautiful production, where there is darkness always comes light as we are taken on a journey of self-discovery and female empowerment, full of heart, hope and humanity.
The Color Purple is on at The Lowry until Saturday 15th October, tickets available here.