The Color Purple
Menier Chocolate Factory
Wednesday 31st July 2013
The buzz surrounding the Menier Chocolate Factory's production of this Broadway piece, in it's European premiere, has put the little Southwark venue on the map this Summer. One of the hottest tickets in town, the run has sold out with overwhelmingly positive feedback from audiences, despite the occasionally lukewarm critical attention.
And it is not difficult to see why. Anyone familiar with the heartbreaking tale of young Celie from the original novel or subsequent film version would be expecting a moving evening, but the sheer power of the performances in this exquisitely directed version surpass even the highest of expectations. The stripped back, elementary style of the characterisations in this adaptation may seem overly sentimental to some, but the strength of the cast draws the audience in and encourages an open heart and free flowing tears.
The intimacy of the venue engages the audience immediately in the glorious gospel style opening and lends itself throughout to the raw intensity of the story and the familiarity built with the endearing lead character. The set is bare but for a series of wooden chairs hung from the wall, used throughout the action as needed, leaving plenty of space for the energetic performances.
In many ways this is an ensemble piece, with the group numbers filling the room with a rousing and dynamic sound, but the individual characterisations are also given compelling interpretations. Celie's tyrant of a husband is played by Christopher Colquhoun with truly villainous intensity, Nicola Hughes is a classy powerhouse in her portrayal of the love of Celie's life, Shug Avery, and Abiona Omonua is a reliable constant as her sister Nettie. It is, however, the career defining performance of the petite superstar that is Cynthia Erivo - as the tortured yet resolutely optimistic Celie - that gives this production its spine-tingling weight. Her voice is breathtaking and she understands and embodies her character with innocence, honesty and utter charm.
I cried along with the vast majority of the rest of the audience and certainly jumped to my feet with them at the end too. I whole heartedly recommend the Menier as an irresistible venue, and this production will certainly be one of my highlights of the summer.