Thursday 18 February 2021

The Color Purple


Curve @ Home

17th February 2021


‘What about tears when I’m happy?

What about wings when I fall?’


I’ll preface this review with a brief apology for the lack of content we’ve provided over the past year. This is, of course, due to ‘you-know-what’, and like much of the rest of the world we’ve been housebound with little else but our now one-year-old cat (Monty) and reminiscences of theatre trips past to keep us company over these 11 months of stasis. Honestly, we’ve been pretty lucky in the grand scheme of things. We’re healthy, we still have jobs, we were blessed with an intimate wedding last October, and, thanks to the tireless efforts and communal spirit of many arts producers, we’ve been able to experience new ways of engaging with theatre, watching countless productions from the safety of our own sofa. A few highlights for us include Jane Eyre, Amadeus, This House, Streetcar and Death of England: Delroy from the National Theatre At Home, Mood Music from The Old Vic and Ian Rickson’s production of Uncle Vanya which was shown on the BBC over Christmas. This new theatrical frontier, while generated by necessity, has been an exciting and wonderfully accessible development in spite of the widespread hardship that those working in the arts have faced. I hope the dedication, innovation and talent of all involved can persuade authorities that the performing arts are an industry in need of, and very much worthy of, significant support.

Curve have been at the forefront of this campaign, releasing archive performance footage, engaging in outreach programmes and creating thrilling new productions that embrace our current way of living. Following on from the immensely successful Sunset Boulevard in Concert, Curve have reunited the company of 2019’s The Color Purple (a co-production with Birmingham Hippodrome) to once again bring a much needed dose of musical enrichment to theatre lovers worldwide.

While Sunset’s cinematic quality and themes of artistic growth and redundancy transitioned seamlessly to the screen, The Color Purple instead benefits from the intimacy afforded by the camerawork of Crosscut Media. We weave in and out of a circular stage that seems invariably vast, claustrophobic, homely and ethereal. The use of a revolve complements Mark Smith’s rhythmic choreography, and coupled with Ben Cracknell’s evocative lighting, helps us navigate the frequent scene changes and passages of time throughout the narrative. This set-up also demonstrates the sometimes caged nature of Celie’s existence. We are presented with a ground-eye view of one woman’s, at once, constricted, mundane, and yet extraordinary universe. Similarly, the tight camera angles complement Tinuke Craig’s frantic direction during ‘Mister Song’. The multimedia element of the piece succeeds in augmenting the dizzying blur of sinister but sympathetic soliloquising. This novel vantage gives what was originally an enjoyable and touching production an extra edge that makes for compelling viewing.

Russell, Willis and Bray’s bluesy score sounds even better than I remembered, with a glorious mix of upbeat jazz, soul and funk (‘Push Da Button’; ‘Hell No!’; ‘Any Little Thing’) and poignant, uplifting ballads (‘What About Love?’; ‘I’m Here’; ‘The Color Purple’). It’s a musical score that has really grown on me and I love the bombastic advances into operatic storytelling. As a musical drama it hits all the right buttons (excuse the pun) in using melody and lyric to drive the narrative while enhancing our empathetic understanding of what is presented.

Craig has reunited the majority of her 2019 cast and their collective experience is telling in the sense of community emanating from the screen. Simon-Anthony Rhoden retains a likeable charm as Celie’s step-son, Harpo, and his double act with Karen Mavundukure’s forthright Sofia is highly enjoyable. A new addition to the cast sees Carly Mercedes Dyer (a powerhouse in Curve’s 2019 production of West Side Story) take over the role of the ubiquitous Shug Avery. While being able to belt out the tunes with ease, Dyer brings a fragility and occasional waspishness to Shug, rounding the character out in all her charismatic flightiness. The company is led by T’Shan Williams’ unfaltering performance as Celie, radiating warmth, joy and beauty. Her Celie is utterly loveable and my heart wept with delight when she finally realises her worth with a triumphant ‘I’m thankful for loving who I really am […] Yes, I’m beautiful and I’m here’.

During the closing moments of the show the emotion flooding from the stage is overwhelming. The cast weep, for the uplifting denouement, for the powerful message of the story, but also, I imagine, for what this production represents in our current climate. The Color Purple imparts such a strong sense of hope that I deny anyone not to be moved by the final bars and dimming of the lights. Acts of community and acts of creation such as this, amid a time of physical and political separation, isolation and, sadly, destruction on a near universal level, serve to remind us of the importance of supporting each other. In coming together we can remember those times we once had, and those we will have once more.

Support the arts, they are the greatest keepers of our lives.

The Color Purple is streaming until 7th March 2021.

For more information please visit

The Color Purple - at Home. Photography by Pamela Raith