You don’t simply ‘watch’ The Color Purple, you experience it … it’s akin to a religious experience where you immerse yourself in it, and then you emerge afterwards feeling that any piece of theatre hereon after is always going to be compared to this and will be left wanting.
As I drifted out of the auditorium, I caught these snippets from fellow theatre-goers: ‘Extraordinary’! ‘Marvelous’! ‘Simply superb’! Yes, they all spoke using hyperbole because that’s just about all that can be said for this production – if one is not rendered speechless by its sheer excellence.
I’m sure I’m in the vast minority of those who had not previously read the book (written by Alice Walker in 1982) or even seen the film of the same name. So I had only a vague notion of the background and storyline before going to see the show. I’m not sure this makes a difference. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
Within seconds of opening the audience is swept away by the innocent exuberance of Celie (Didintle Khunou) and her sister Nettie (Sebe Leotlela) bursting onto the stage, singing as only children without a care can. But within just short moments we realise this isn’t the case. Time moves swiftly onstage and we see that this simplicity is just a front for the harsh life that the sisters experience. It’s the early 1900’s in the American South: times are tough for young African-American women.
In these times troubles are borne with proud humility. Life dishes out harsh blows, as do the men from whom there seems no escape. However Celie finds shelter from the storm in the unlikely form of Shug Avery, the woman her own husband pines for. Sophisticated, stylish, and with a mind of her own, Shug is the first person to show Celie how to nurture her own individuality. For the first time Celie begins to understand that it might be possible that she’s her own person, and that she might have a chance at having a life of her own, away from the cruelty and appalling conditions inflicted upon her by the loathsome Mister. Khunou plays Celie with dignity, charm and strength and a voice that will capture your heart.
Lerato Mvelase makes an enchanting Shug. She holds everyone in the palm of one hand, while wanting to grab all that life has to offer her with the other. It’s a riveting performance. And in the very eye of the Shug storm is Mister, played with such discerning insight by Aubrey Poo that the audience can’t help but be captivated, first despising him, eventually sympathising with him and by the very end of the show feeling quite fond of him.
Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri as Mister’s son is delightfully endearing, with a voice that proves he’s to be taken a lot more seriously than his character might suggest. But it is Neo Motaung who surprises in her role as Sofia, Harpo’s strong-minded wife. Wow! This is a powerhouse of talent to look out for in future. With a voice that pulsates and resonates into your very core, not to mention a laugh that begs to let you in on the private joke! Motaung is an astonishing treasure that has been unearthed!
The entire cast creates a striking ensemble that moves effortlessly to the choreography of Oscar Buthelezi, and under the baton of Musical Director Rowan Bakker, together with the 8-piece orchestra, they generate a joyful noise that will undoubtedly bring audiences to their feet time and time again in thunderous applause, not only at the conclusion of each performance, but at other moving moments throughout it too.
Director Janice Honeyman has proven time and again that she is the Queen of all she surveys in her field but this time she’s outdone herself, and together with Executive Producer Bernard Jay has crafted a genuine masterpiece! This is an authentic gem of a production, the likes of which one rarely gets the privilege to see. Grab the opportunity while you have the chance! You’ll be so glad you did!
The Colour Purple is on The Mandela Stage at The Joburg Theatre until Sunday March 4th, 2018. Tickets are priced from R240: Telephone 0861 670 670, go online at www.joburgtheatre.com or book in person at the Joburg Theatre box office. Theatre patrons can also book online and pay at selected Pick N Pay stores.
[All photo credits: @enroCpics]