WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHERE?: Curve Leicester RUNTIME: 150 minutes (10-minute interval)
WHEN?: 2/3/21 runs to 7/3/21 available digitally
Update: now extended to 16/3/21
You won’t find a review of this musical on this site until now but 1 of Team monstagigz did see Cynthia Erivo’s Tony Award-winning role as Celie on Broadway in a production that had originated at south London’s Menier Chocolate Factory.
- Read on for reasons including how this Curve Leicester theatre production came to be availably digitally
This musical is based on the 1982 novel by Alice Walker – perhaps best known for its 1985 film adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg – and was written by Marsha Norman, Brenda Russell, 80s Madonna collaborator Stephen Bray and Allee Willis (who co-wrote What Have I Done To Deserve This? with Pet Shop Boys).
We’ve not seen the film nor read the book and thought the musical began unpromisingly as we were introduced to 14-year-old Celie in rural Georgia in 1909 playing a clapping game with a childhood friend. We learn that Celie has been raped and that the children born as a result have been given away.
She’s separated from her friend and bullied into an arranged marriage with an abusive man. Celie is played here by T’Shan Williams (Heathers, Other Palace) who gives her all in a demanding role that sees her age across many decades.
Carly Mercedes Dyer (The View UpStairs, Soho Theatre) plays jazz singer Shug Avery who becomes close to Celie and in the intervening years we see our heroine grow as the prospect for some emotional reunions become clearer.
This production was conceived in 2019 but filmed in 2021 as director Tinuke Craig (Crave, Chichester Festival Theatre) explains: ‘The show means something different now, or at least feels more potent thematically. A piece about community, connection, a need for time with loved ones and about isolation is inevitably going to hit harder off the back of 2020 (and let’s be honest, 2021 so far). Even more so, a piece that highlights black struggle and systemic racism, celebrates black lives, and champions black love is needed more than ever, and will surely hit different for audiences now.
‘We only had 10 days to make the show. The cast turned up on day one and pulled the melodies lyrics and harmonies from deep in their memories from almost two years ago. Mark Smith reimagined and simplified the choreography to fit a world of social distancing whilst retaining the fun and expressiveness of the company and our original show.
‘I worked with the actors to find the truth and detail behind the words and figure out how to tell our story for people not sitting with us in the auditorium but at home in their living rooms.’
We’ve been critical of attempts to recreate theatrical experiences on film but this production succeeds in pulling in the viewer to a different world. It’s helped by an extraordinary cast and an uplifting story about women who aren’t going to be subjugated and sing an impressive soundtrack of songs with titles including Too Beautiful For Words, Push Da Button and I’m Here.
We also enjoyed Ako Mitchell’s (Caroline, Or Change, Hampstead Theatre) character arc proving redemption is possible from the darkest of beginnings.
The 2,000 free tickets to NHS workers in Leicester and Birmingham to this digital production is also a nice touch. Work is underway on a film version of the musical which will doubtless repeat the considerable success already enjoyed and so don’t miss your chance to get ahead of the curve and catch this digital production before curtain down.