Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Theatrical Interlude 22

The Color Purple, Chocolate Menier Theatre, London. August 2013.

Every year at the library where I work we run promotions to tie in with Norfolk's Black History Month and the ALA Banned Books Week.  In 2013 we are linking the two promotions and focusing on two books that are important for both - The Color Purple by Alice Walker and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

After the initial planning meeting I was pleasantly surprised to find that my hobby and my job had once more coincided and that in the summer of 2013 both books would be adapted for the London stage.  I didn't manage to see the version of To Kill a Mockingbird at the open air theatre in Regents Park but four of us travelled to London to catch a performance of The Color Purple.

I haven't yet re-read the book ready for our events in October and I could only remember the bare minimum of the plot in advance but I think that this was ideal as I then wasn't suffering from 'adaptation-itis' and wincing at changes from the original. This was echoed by my companions who all agreed that it felt 'right'.

This was a musical version and while very occasionally I found the music a little too loud for the venue and was unable to hear the singing but overall I was swept away from the instant the cast appeared on stage.  The Menier Chocolate Theatre is a pretty small and intimate place and thanks to the staging I felt that I was almost part of the cast - this was helped by actors leaving the stage and shaking hands with the audience in the opening number.

The Color Purple deals with some very heavy issues - rape, racism and abuse to name a few - but the genius of this production is that none of these themes is either over written or dealt with flippantly. As in life there are moments of humour even in the bleakest scenes.  Being a musical the tone so easily could be 'off' and the poignancy of the story lost but that doesn't happen at all. There pretty much wasn't a dry eye in the house as Celie sang the penultimate song 'I'm Here.'

The staging was very simple for the play, a huge thrust stage with chairs hanging on the wall. These chairs were used as seating, as props, for dancing on and for creating height on stage. There were no stagehands and these chairs were moved and used by all of the cast so smoothly that they were almost like another person on the stage. The lack of interruptions for scene shifting kept me thoroughly engaged in the play and constantly marvelling about the talent of the actors.

Apart from the very occasional moment when the orchestra drowned out the singing this was one of the best things I've seen at the theatre all year.  Much of the cast played more than one role but I really have to single out Sophia Nomvete playing Sofia and Cynthia Erivo who played Celie.  Erivo manages to convey a scared, pregnant teenager, downtrodden wife and also a woman of her own means just by changing her posture. Her voice is no less impressive!

I came out of this play wishing I could go straight back in and I am now hoping for a transfer to the West End so that I can see it again and talk everyone I know into coming with me.

The cast towards the end of the play, Celie is in the white blouse and Sofia in the green trousers.

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