Expectations were high when Tinuke Craig set out to direct the first UK tour of the musical adaptation of The Color Purple; the novel won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and made Alice Walker a household name, and Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film adaptation received four Golden Globe Award nominations. 

This week at The Lowry, the musical’s cast and crew proved that they were more than up to the challenge. Craig expertly navigates the story’s many intense highs and lows and the combination of a formidably-talented cast and the show’s soaring musical numbers makes for a moving and inspiring production.

Leading the company as the downtrodden but full-hearted Celie is Me’sha Bryan, whose quiet hope and resilience in the face of a seemingly-endless slew of challenges has the audience rooting for her from opening number to final curtain call. Her interpretation of this much-loved underdog is sensitive and nuanced and her flawless performance of ‘I’m Here’ is one of the show’s standout moments. 

Although the story is dark, with key themes of racism, poverty and intergenerational cycles of violence, there are also many moments of joy and comedy. Much-needed comic relief is provided by trio of gossips Doris (Karen Mavundukure), Darlene (Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah) and Jarene (brilliantly played by understudy Kayla Carter on night of review), whose witty commentary on the story’s many scandals is delivered in perfect harmony. 

A regular subject of this gossip, the bolshie and fiercely-independent Sofia (Anelise Lamola) provides an alternative model of femininity to Celie’s quiet subordination in the early years of her marriage to the cruel Mister (Ako Mitchell). Lamola’s performance is outstanding and the speed with which the audience falls in love with her energy and fearlessness makes her cruel treatment at the hands of the county jail in Act Two all the more heartbreaking. 

Special mention must also be made to Bree Smith, who brings nuance and depth to the overtly sultry Shug Avery. The tenderness and effortlessness of her affair with Celie is a refreshing representation of a black queer relationship in the Deep South of the 1940s.

This is a cast that is overflowing with talent and the spectacular score – which draws inspiration from gospel, jazz and blues – is uplifting and moving in equal parts. The simple and highly-effective set and light design (by Alex Lowde and Josh Pharo respectively) is inspired and allows for seamless transitions across the decades of Celie’s life. 

Craig and her cast and crew have made a moving and inspiring contribution to the remarkable legacy of Walker’s novel and the raucous standing ovation on opening night at The Lowry was much deserved. 

Mon 17 Oct, The Lowry,
The Quays, Salford M50 3AZ
Rachel Kevern
Published on:
Sat 15 Oct 2022