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BrumHour is invited to review and experience productions at Birmingham Hippodrome throughout the year.
Review by Eleanor Lawson twitter.com/Elle_Lawson
Please note: This production contains adult themes and references.
Review: The Color Purple – at Home with
Curve Leicester and Birmingham Hippodrome
Directed by Tinuke Craig
In July 2019, I missed the run of The Color Purple at the Birmingham Hippodrome because I was too busy with rehearsals of my own show I was in. The 1982 Pulitzer prize-winning book by Alice Walker is a literary heavyweight and the only book I could find on Goodreads which every single one of my friends has given five stars. Transform it into a musical with not one but two Tony award-winning Broadway runs, launching actress Cynthia Erivo into instant stardom winning a Tony, an Emmy, and a Grammy, and you have a modern classic. Its reputation precedes it. So I was thrilled to get the chance to rectify this with a streamed concert version of the production, even if it’s bittersweet in the shade of darkened auditoriums.
T’Shan Williams is extraordinary as Celie, the beating heart of the show, who is born onto the stage as an abused, lonely fourteen-year-old, a child with two children coming of her own. Sweet, compassionate, and endlessly naïve, Celie volunteers to be married so her sister Nettie – (Danielle Fiamanya) – can dedicate herself to an education instead. We are with Celie through the next three decades of her life as she endures the patriarchal, racially-segregated society of the Deep South. Anyone weary of watching because of the darkest depths of the novel should know that nothing gratuitous is shown, that traumas are named and shone a light on but not replicated on the stage. We know that Celie’s children were made in the most horrendous of circumstances, but these are alluded to briefly and with respect to Celie as a survivor. This is not a production that revels in its own trauma, instead focusing on the joy of finally escaping it. Despite everything, this is a show of love and hope.
This show feels like a miracle in itself. The cast and creatives only had ten days to transform the previous stage production into a socially distanced Covid-appropriate concert show. Ten days. And while I didn’t manage to see The Color Purple in the flesh, it doesn’t feel like it lost anything from its transferral from stage to screen. While it might not have all of the bombast of a real auditorium, the camera brings you into an even more intimate relationship with the characters, you can look straight into their eyes and bear witness to their grief and joy. There’s a particularly beautiful moment where T’Shan Williams as Celie has reached rock bottom, and prays on her knees with her face keening towards the ceiling. As the tempo of the song changes and her prayers haven’t been answered, she slowly brings her head down, jaw clenching and eyes hardening into flint, and stares right into the soul of the camera. All of her blind faith combusts and she blinks through the ashes into a new world and a new way of life.
In the most patriarchal of societies, it is in the arms of Shug Avery that Celie finds sexual awakening. Carly Mercedes Dyer blazes like a meteor across the stage, and you can’t tear your eyes away from her. Same-sex love is an integral part of the novel and show, the women finding love, autonomy, and pleasure (a highlight of the whole show is Shug Avery teaching the women of the town how to ‘Push da Button’) in each other, and the whole story culminates in this. Shug wears bright purple, it falls across her body like gossamer, shines on her nails, glimmers across her lips. It is in the colour purple that Celie finds her release.
Tinuke Craig has done a remarkable job in making such an effusive show of light. The programme declares that two thousand free tickets have been offered to NHS staff in both Birmingham and Leicester who have been battling the pandemic for the last year, a reminder of what our arts are for. This is a blazing, beautiful story of queer love and finding strength in you who are. It’s a story for the ages.
The Color Purple – at Home is available to watch until 16th March with tickets available to devices in the UK and Ireland only via Birmingham Hippodrome website: birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/the-color-purple-at-home.