Jessica Harris watches the Made at Curve production created in association with Birmingham Hippodrome.
Celie is an African American girl growing up in 1930s, rural Georgia. Her story is told in this musical based on the book by Alice Walker. And there’s a lot of story to get through – strong stuff, but conveyed with energy and optimism by the Curve Theatre’s hugely talented company of performers.
Raped by the man she believes is her father from the age of twelve, and forced to marry another man, generally known as Mr.¬¬_, this is the story of Celie’s survival and eventual triumph. But it is not just Celie’s story – it is the story of women she encounters along the way.
As she grows into womanhood, the men who rule Celie’s life tell her she is ugly and worthless. Her children are given away; her beloved sister Nettie is forced to leave as Mr.¬¬_ turns his lustful eyes towards her. In the absence of anyone to turn to, she turns to God.
As time goes by, Celie comes across other women – brave and sassy women. First, there is the defiant Sofia who fights back when her husband tries to beat her. Then there is the rebellious Shug Avery, glamorous singer and sometimes girlfriend of Mr._. Celie, realising her true sexuality, is drawn to Shug and they become lovers.
Finally, we learn about the abuse the men have also suffered through the effects of slavery on their forebears: We discover that Celie’s real father was lynched by white men, resentful of his success.
The quality of performance, singing and movement in this production is truly impressive. As the piece moves from the 1930s into the 1950s and beyond, the changing times are well interpreted through the move from gospel and blues into jazz and ragtime. Costumes changes from rustic to a more urban and chic style are also effective.
With so much story to be told through the format of a musical, the intimacy found in Walker’s book, where Celie’s story is told through her letters to God is somewhat lost. And a big musical also calls out for its audience to be in big theatre space. Nevertheless, this is a compelling piece of theatre of people finding a voice, against a culture of oppression.
The production was directed by Tinuke Craig, Musical director was Alex Parker and choreographer was Mark Smith. Celie was played by T’Shan Williams.
The Color Purple is being streamed until Sunday 7th March. Tickets are available at curveonline.co.uk.
Pic – Pamela Raith