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)
Photo: Nobby Clark