Theatre review: The Color Purple, Menier Chocolate Factory
Menier Chocolate Factory, London
A story about rape, incest, domestic violence and racist abuse is an unlikely recipe for a musical, yet a Broadway adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple, set in 1930s Georgia, has just come to London after receiving 11 Tony Award nominations and one win in New York. The darker issues are swept aside in this wholesome European debut, directed by John Doyle, in which God and trousers triumph over ignorance and injustice.
The musical takes early black American music (accompanied by a brilliant little live orchestra) as the backdrop to the fluctuating attitudes, starting with a gospel choir and progressing through soul, jazz and Motown.
Celie is a young black girl who was abused by her father and then gets stuck in an abusive marriage. Cynthia Erivo plays her with an unfailing optimism that sometimes grates where it’s intended to warm the heart, but her voice is lustrous and her Motown-influenced duet with the “Queen honeybee”, Shug Avery (played by Nicola Hughes) is delicately impressive.
It might be the uneven pacing or it could be that everyone is just too damn happy in the face of tragedy, but it’s often hard to feel truly moved by these characters.
The sprawling narrative is hard to fit in a musical mould, so characters lose nuance and some intimate moments are played to the front, ignoring the audience on both sides of the thrust stage. The combined effect is that we’re missing the details. One scene revealing the reformed character of Celia’s husband shows his entire personality shift in a few short lines delivered by Erivo, listing his accomplishments; “I seen all your charity work…”
The many assertive, beautifully forceful women provide much of the comedy as they give their men sass and slap them down. Celie’s emancipation and decision to go into business making trousers seems to be construed merely for the sake of her line: “Who’s wearing the pants now?” bellowed heartily from atop one of the school chairs that are the only props and surrounded by sisters-in-arms, trouser-clad and powerful.
The audience whooped excitedly at this, and for a moment it felt like a full gospel church service had been fused with an episode of Oprah. If there was a consistent theme running through the performance it would be “You go, God” for he was in every line. The abundant, dewy-eyed love for him was too saccharine for my taste, and the lightening up of the original story doesn’t always sit well.
5 July – 14 September; 020 7378 1713 or online
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Avengers: Age of Ultron: Nearly 700 German cinemas refuse to show movie
- 2 Donald Trump decides that Baltimore riots are Barack Obama's fault
- 3 X Factor in crisis as numbers of people auditioning plummets
- 4 General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
- 5 Baltimore riots: Furious mother marches her son home live on TV
Fast & Furious 7 overtakes Frozen to become 5th highest grossing movie of all time
Poldark finale review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Avengers: Age of Ultron: Nearly 700 German cinemas refuse to show movie
Game of Thrones season 5: Episode 4 preview clip presents the Sand Snakes as HBO reveals new titles and synopses
The Visit: Watch terrifying trailer for M Night Shyamalan's latest horror film
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia