Book: Marsha Newman
Music and Lyrics: Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray
Writer: Alice Walker
Based on the Pulitzer prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, and adapted for the stage by Pulitzer and Tony award winner Marsha Norman, The Colour Purple comes to Norwich with some big shoes to fill. Telling the story of courageous heroine Celie and her journey through joys and heartbreaks to her discover her own voice in the world, the touring adaptation of The Colour Purple is certainly up to the task.
The entire cast is outstanding in this performance, handling the topics of abuse, racism, and poverty with respect and authenticity while also bringing to life the joy and colour of the original prose. Celie, brought to life by Me’sha Bryan, is captivating throughout as she guides the audience through the narrative from her young, naïve, and terrified fourteen year old self through to the confident and self assured woman she finally finds her way to being.
The music choice (Ian Oakley) in this piece deserves it’s own mention, and indeed its own celebration. Drawing clear inspiration from jazz, ragtime, gospel, and blues every musical choice in this show is a celebration of the diversity and beauty of the traditions of black music. Working in sync with this is the aesthetic of the set designs, lighting, and video, where wooden are initially simplistic and unassuming but through the use of projection create a moving landscape of times and places to transport the audience through dreams and realities.
There are a few issues with the staging which occasionally detract from the whole, however. One of the two sliding set piece spends most of the first act out of alignment leaving the audience with a view of cast and techs hurrying back and forth behind the scenes. The larger issue however, is that the set is simply too large for the venue. Bar the audience members sat dead centre the stage sprawls so far to the sides that often characters, locations, and plot points become hidden from view in the wings.
This show is at its core a celebration of music, and its ability to raise peoples’ voices in power when they are otherwise powerless. The performance is at times harrowing, and at others entirely uplifting, showcasing what musical theatre as what it should be; beautiful, powerful, and purposeful.
Runs Until: 5 November 2022