based on the novel by Alice Walker; book by Marsha Norman music & lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, Stephen Bray.

Menier Chocolate Factory 51 Southwark Street SE1 1RU To 14 September 2013.
Tue-Sat 8pm Mat Sat & Sun 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.

TICKETS: 0207 378 1713.
Review: William Russell 16 July.

Downtrodden down in the land of cotton.
The Menier should have another hit on its hands with John Doyle’s fine production of this Broadway show, based on the 1982 novel by Alice Walker about coloured women breaking out from male domination.

Walker’s novel, successfully filmed by Steven Spielberg, doesn’t spring to mind as ideal for a musical, covering some thirty years from 1914 – though most of the cast don’t age at all.

The plot’s complexity also requires a lot of loose-end tying-up in the last ten minutes, and the focus sometimes moves from the heroine to subsidiary characters, losing impetus. On the plus side, the score is packed with rousing gospel, jazz and blues numbers, the cast could hardly be bettered, productions numbers dazzle and Doyle has designed an impressive apron-stage, all stripped-wood, the chairs suspended on the back wall the only props; not an original idea, but it works.

Celie (Cynthia Erivo) and sister Nettie (Abiona Omonua) are inseparable. Raped repeatedly by her stepfather, Celie has had two babies taken for adoption. Allegedly ugly, she’s married off to Mister, an abusive farmer (Christopher Colquhoun) and leads a life of misery, while Nettie runs away.

Celie takes her fate for granted until Mister’s occasional mistress, Shug Avery, a glamorous blues singer (Nicola Hughes) turns up and everything takes a turn for the better – a little love empowers the downtrodden Celie to stand up for herself; not before time as she is in danger of become tedious.

The passage of time is never clear, scenes merge seamlessly, and the narrative needs a stronger centre than Celie – odd because it is her story, her emancipation we cheer. Although she looks a teenager throughout, Erivo is very good indeed. She and Hughes get the best numbers – they are belters born – while Sophia Nomvete is equally terrific as Celie’s ill-treated but feisty friend Sofia.

It went down a storm with the audience, which had only 14 non-White members. This says something about theatre audiences in London; a show based on a major African-American novel would, one would have thought, attracted a more diverse audience. Maybe it will.

Celie: Cynthia Erivo.
Nettie: Abiona Omonua.
Darlene (a churchwoman): Keisha T Fraser.
Doris (a churchwoman): Samantha Antoinette Smith.
Jarene (a churchwoman): Jennifer Saayeng.
Preacher/Guard: Leon Lopez.
Pa: Neil Reidman.
Mister: Christopher Colquhoun.
Harp: Adebayo Bolaji.
Sofia: Sophia Nomvete.
Squeak: Lakesha Cammock.
Shug Avery: Nicola Hughes.
Ol Mister: Joe Spear.
Buster/Young Man: Marc Akinfolarin.
Grady: Ashley Campbell.
Olivia: Ibinabo Jack.
Adam: Gabriel Mokake.

Director/Designer: John Doyle.
Lighting: Jane Cox.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Orchestrations: Brian Morales.
Musical Supervisor: Catherine Jayes.
Musical Director: Tom Deering.
Choreographer: Ann Yee.
Costume: Matthew Wright.
Associate director: Adam Leason.

2013-07-17 10:00:39

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