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Review | The Color Purple | The Lowry | 11/10/2022

Some may know The Color Purple from Alice Walker’s Pulitzer prize-winning book, others from Spielberg's 1985 movie. It is however now known to many because of its Tony Award winning musical. The Color Purple tells the story of Celie, an African-American woman who finally discovers how to love herself after a lifetime of oppression.

I absolutely loved the highly acclaimed 2015 Broadway revival, which catapulted Cynthia Erivo into superstardom. This musical has however been criminally underperformed this side of the Atlantic and appetite was only further fuelled by the Curve's streamed production during lockdown. Like many others I sat on my sofa in awe, whilst simultaneously massively missing the live theatre experience. Fast forward to the tail end of 2022 and theatre is very much alive and The Color Purple is enjoying its first UK tour.

We meet a pregnant teenage Celie (Me'sha Bryan) who has suffered a life of physical and mental abuse at the hands of her father before being married off young to Mister (Ako Mitchell) who treats her similarly inhumanely. When her sister Nettie (Aaliyah Zhané), her only pillar of strength disappears she assumes Nettie dead and gone forever. She fears the same for her two children who her father made disappear. We are taken on a journey of Celie's life throughout the years. This is an inevitable challenge in terms of believability without multiple performers playing the role. Although the clever use of projections helped, Bryan altered her performance to make the audience believe she was different ages (and varying levels of innocence and growth). The audience erupted into rapturous applause when she finally stands up for herself at the dinner table in act two. Similar much needed injections of lightness were used in some of the darker moments via three women hilariously gossiping about what's going on.

The cast were without any hint of a weak link, being particularly strong during full ensemble moments at the beginning and end of the show. That being said Anelisa Lamola as Sophia was a clear standout for me. Her confidence exuded, creating a believable portrayal of a strong, independent woman. Her vocals were arguably the strongest of the entire cast, which with this collection of talented singers is one hell of an achievement! Another favourite performance was Ako Mitchell's portrayal of Mister. His voice was like butter and an absolute joy to listen to. Where he excelled though was making Mister genuinely menacing throughout, making the audience feel uncomfortable and scared for Celie. What I did have difficulty with was his redemption, which I did not feel was appropriate nor did it support the message this fantastic show otherwise stood for. This is in no way a criticism of Mitchell, who was incredible, but the script itself.

Staging was minimal yet clever with two cut out arches, helping set the scene by creating houses, a church and a shop amongst other locations. Whilst personally I would have liked an even more scaled back production and level of intimacy, the staging definitely suited the large Lowry stage and other similarly sized large venues for this tour.

What can't be argued with is the strength of the score itself. This musical has some of my all-time favourite musical theatre songs and they need to be heard live to be fully appreciated. 'In Miss Celie's Pants' was a surprise standout as I have never appreciated it previously. It helps inject a lighter tone which is necessary to fully show Celie's growth, thanks to the influence of her strong female role models!

All in all, this is an absolute must see production, even with a few areas for improvement. We have waited years to get a UK tour of this show, so catch it whilst you can. The Color Purple remains at The Lowry until 15 October... perhaps the perfect venue with its purple colour scheme throughout!

The tour will then continue on to:

- Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff (18/10/2022 - 22/10/2022)

- Mayflower Theatre, Southampton (25/10/2022 - 29/10/2022)

- Theatre Royal, Norwich (01/11/2022 - 05/11/2022)


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