'Despair and delight on emotional runaway train': The Color Purple, Birmingham Hippodrome - review
The Color Purple has got to be one of the most harrowing, emotionally draining films I can remember watching.
Dealing with incest, domestic violence, women's rights, inequality and a host of other huge issues, it's not the kind of material that immediately makes you think 'Oh, this would make a good musical'.
And yet here it is; loud, brash and larger than life, taking you from the depths of despair to joyous heights all in an emotionally-charged two and half hours on stage at Birmingham Hippodrome.
From the moment the cast take to the stage the audience - packed to the rafters - is gripped. The grip tightens and loosens as the drama and emotion flows on stage, but it is not lost until long after the standing ovation is over.
The show tells the story of young girl Celie and her turbulent upbringing in which she suffers unspeakable physical and emotional abuse. She bears two children by her father, who then snatches the newborns away, keeping a devastated Celie as a virtual slave.
Celie then moves in with her new husband who takes over where her father left off, using her as housekeeper, mother to his own children, dogsbody and punching bag. He orders her beloved sister Nettie to stay away from the house, later hiding letters from her, leaving Celie, already heartbroken from the loss of her children, bereft.
But then into her life come two inspirational women, Sofia and Shug Avery who teach her that it's OK to stand up to men, and work away at her low self esteem until she finally begins to believe she is worth more than she has been told by men all her life.
There follows a journey on which we are taken through every emotion under the sun, carried by the incredible voices of every single member of this talented cast.
Special mention has to go to T'Shan Williams as Celie who takes us with her on every gruelling step of her journey of self-discovery, making us feel her pain and heartache, and ultimately joy.
Her voice soars, filled with love, heartache, despair and delight and we feel every single one of those emotions with her. Its crystal clarity also means we can hear every word she sings.
The highlight has got to be her performance of I'm Here, during which she elicits impromptu cheers and applause. The audience can't help themselves, they have to let her know they're with her.
Karen Mavundukure as Sofia is simply superb, bringing sass and sensitivity in bucket-loads to the role. Again, her voice is strong, clear and powerful as is Joanna Francis's - her performance as Shug is outstanding.
The harmonies of Jarene, Doris and Darlene, the church gossips are fantastic; adding a lighter touch that is needed sometimes to give us a breather from the intensity of the action.
The male cast members are equally impressive; their masterful rendition of Big Dog being a stand-out highlight.
The production comes to a close as Celie, now a self-assured independent home-owner and businesswoman, is finally reunited with her sister Nettie and the two children she lost so many years earlier in a heart-rending scene that, for once, leaves the audience silent.
This show really is less a rollercoaster of emotions, more a 100-mile-an-hour runaway train, but one you don't want to get off.
The train leaves the Hippodrome station on Saturday; catch it while you can.