Royal & Derngate, Northampton – until 8th October 2022
Reviewed by Ely King
Content warning: mentions of sexual assault and abuse
This cast is overflowing with endless talent
The Color Purple is a brutally honest portrayal of what life was like for many people of colour in the past.
Based on the well-loved novel written by Alice Walker, and the movie directed by Steven Spielberg, this musical adaptation is a modern masterpiece.
The production follows the tumultuous life of Celie (Me’Sha Bryan) from a young age as she navigates the twists and turns of being a black woman in the early 1900’s – prior to the Civil Rights Movement.
By the age of fourteen, Celie has already given birth to her second child as a result of being raped by her father (KM Drew Boatend), who ‘gets rid’ of them shortly after birth.
Before she even has a chance to begin to recover, she is shirked off into the hands of a brute of a man, Mister (Ako Mitchell).
Though Celie goes willingly, accepting her role in society, her headstrong sister Nettie (Aaliyah Zhané) is defiant from the get-go, proclaiming how she will be a teacher and have her own life.
It’s this defiance, and natural beauty, that catches the eye of Mister, and upon her rejection, he shuns her from his property – Celie assumes her sister has been killed by her husband.
With no sister for support, Celie succumbs to the ruthless torment and beatings that her husband bestows on her, never once complaining or questioning the mechanics of their relationship.
Thankfully, by the end of the show, Celie is once again surrounded by people who love and care for her and is finally truly happy.
Despite the show being incredibly heavy in places, there is still a sprinkling of comedy throughout. It is enough to help lighten the show in areas, but doesn’t detract from the storyline or make light of the story being told.
This delicate balance helps the show become the success that it is.
That, and the cast.
This touring cast are some of the most talented performers out there right now.
From start to finish, this performance is a sensational masterclass of talent.
Me’Sha Bryan and Ako Mitchell as Celie and Mister are true standouts of the performance, having the perfectly believable to-and-fro with some jaw-dropping solos.
Ako manages to even get the audience feeling sorry for him at parts of the show, which is a huge feat considering how cruel his character is portrayed.
Even though Me’Sha and Ako may be the leads, every single person in this cast has their well-deserved moment to shine.
These singers are so phenomenally talented, their vocals are borderline ethereal at times.
Two of the women who help Celie gain strength and independence are Sofia, played by Analisa Lamola, and Shug Avery played by Bree Smith. Analisa and Bree are incredibly talented, performing some show-stopping ballads effortlessly with an air of grace that commands the attention of the audience.
Whilst every single cast member deserves their own shout-out, honourable mentions have to go to Esme Laudat, Karen Mavundukure and Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah who play Jarene, Doris and Darlene respectively. The three women act like rogue narrators, stirring up gossip amongst themselves between scenes to help introduce characters and add that little bit more drama. Their characterisation is very reminiscent of The Muses from Hercules, or The Fates from Hadestown.
Although the women undoubtedly run this show, the men are no joke either.
The ensemble stars the incredible Joshua Clemetson and Ahmed Hamad (among others) who are the perfect light relief and sounding board for the women to play against.
The Color Purple is an invaluable and unforgettable piece of art and is a must-see for everyone.