Theatre Review: THE COLOR PURPLE – The Lowry, Salford

Despite its heavy themes, THE COLOR PURPLE is a powerful and uplifting tale that celebrates life, love and the strength of survival.

4 out of 5 stars

Following its praised revival in 2019, new musical, THE COLOR PURPLE, finally heads out on a UK tour with a week-long run at Salford’s The Lowry.

Based on Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer prize-winning novel, the coming-of-age story follows courageous heroine Celie, who lives in the Deep South during the turn of the 20th century. Abused and oppressed throughout her youth, Celie embarks on a journey through joy, despair, anguish, and hope, discovering her own unique voice thanks to the incredible women in her life.

Focusing on raw human emotion, director Tinuke Craig keeps this vast and sprawling show tightly paced, delicately balancing the show’s heavy themes with its uplifting and moving score.

Alex Lowde’s simple yet effective wooden set design is intentionally stark, leaning on Joshua Pharo’s lighting and video projections to depict an array of locations and to aid the passing of time.

Much of the show’s success lies in its impeccable casting. Me’sha Bryan is a tour de force as Celie. Her lyrical and dramatic performance brings a deep emotional richness to the role as she takes the audience on a journey of transformation.

Analisa Lamola is a stunning force of nature as Sofia, while Bree Smith commands your attention as the perfectly tuned Shug Avery, two of the women who help Celie gain strength and independence.
Ako Mitchell delivers a stand-out performance as Mister, while Ahmed Hamad delivers a wonderfully comic performance as Mister’s son, Harpo.

A special mention must also go to Esme Laudat, Karen Mavundukure and Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah, who play Jarene, Doris and Darlene respectively, who act as rogue narrators, stirring up gossip and adding a little comic relief to the piece.

But the show’s real star is Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray’s profoundly evocative score draws inspiration from jazz, ragtime, gospel and blues. From the super sassy HELL NO! to the spine-tingling I’M HERE, the musical numbers help bring this uplifting and moving production to life, stirring a celebration of blackness, community and soul.

Of course, anyone who has read Walker’s novel will know THE COLOR PURPLE has some heavy themes, with rape, incest and domestic violence dominating the first half of the show.

Yet, THE COLOR PURPLE is a powerful and uplifting tale that celebrates life, love and the strength of survival.

THE COLOR PURPLE runs at The Lowry, Salford, until 15 October 2022.