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Poor Celie – she’s black, she’s poor, she’s a woman and – as she’s frequently reminded – she’s plain ugly too, which puts her right at the bottom of the pile in Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer prize winning novel.

Set in 1930s rural Georgia, Walker's seminal novel has been joyfully adapted for the stage by Marsha Norman and was a hit on Broadway in 2005.

Of necessity, this musical version strips out several characters, and crucial revelations and events are often dealt with in a perfunctory manner.

But its heart is definitely in the right place and it doesn’t ignore the distressing aspects of the book (and of Steven Spielberg’s subsequent film) – teenage Celie’s rape, her miserable “marriage” to the cruel, whip-wielding Mister (Christopher Colquhoun) who wishes he’d married another woman and treats her worse than a slave, the appalling treatment of her sassy, indomitable  daughter-in-law Sofia (Sophia Nomvete), and juke-joint singer Shug Avery’s reliance on her sex appeal to get her through.

The men are a pretty rotten lot – cruel, abusive or, at best, weak. No wonder Celie only finds sexual happiness, at least temporarily, with Shug.

And although John Doyle’s lively production (enacted on a stage almost bare bar rows of chairs suspended from the rear wall) has a feel-good atmosphere right from the start, filling the stage with the powerful voices of gossiping churchgoers, the tears are there too - the tissues were in evidence well before the end.

And among the talented all-black cast, tiny Cynthia Erivo stands out as Celie who, over three decades, movingly makes the transition from downtrodden victim to a self-sufficient woman who knows her own mind. Warmly recommended. 

Menier Chocolate Factory , 53 Southwark Street, SE1 1RU
Tube |  London Bridge
Until 14th September
£27.50 – 37.50 (Meal Deals £37.50- £43.00) 
menierchocolatefactory.com

 

Photo: Nobby Clark


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