Tag Archives: Mark Smith

“The Color Purple” from the Curve Leicester

In his introductory remarks to this new online version of a 2019 revival staged with the Birmingham Hippodrome, the Curve’s artistic director Nikolai Foster hopes the production inspires and uplifts the audience. Taking on the task, director Tinuke Craig has achieved exactly that – 100 per cent!

Adapted from Alice Walker’s novel, the Tony award-winning musical sounds fantastic. The singing here is superb, and the score, from Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, is interesting and intelligent. Staged in the round, the play’s sensitive filming allows us to take in strong acting and appreciate Mark Smith’s choreography. Craig combines all this to give us “a story to believe in” that won’t leave a dry eye in your house.

The lead characters, with their difficult lives, aren’t easy to portray. Celie’s self-sacrifice, as her children are taken from her and she endures horrific domestic abuse, is hard to watch. But, taking the role, T’Shan Williams expresses pain and anger through song with incredible power – the range in her singing is awe-inspiring. Celie’s whip-wielding husband, Mister, is relentlessly awful, with Ako Mitchell suitably repellent in the role. Casting vanity aside, his redemption is a strong companion to Celie’s. In the scene of Mister’s breakdown, Mitchell has a raw power that is breath-taking.

Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah, Danielle Kassarate and Landi Oshinowo
Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah, Danielle Kassarate and Landi Oshinowo

While Celie’s life is full of trauma, there’s humour in The Color Purple. Plenty comes from the gossiping church ladies, a brilliant trio performed by Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah, Danielle Kassaraté and Landi Oshinowo, who have some of the most adventurous musical moments. And while the story of Celie’s stepson and his wife Sophia is troubled, their relationship contains laughs as well as passion and is portrayed marvellously by Simon-Anthony Rhoden and Karen Mavundukure – I could have watched both all night.

Handling relief in such a powerful story is tricky. But the show needs light… and colour. This is most clearly revealed in the joy that surrounds the character of Shug Avery. With yet another magnificent performance, from Carly Mercedes Dyer, the blues singer who both Mister and Celie fall in love with becomes a sage who holds the key to Celie’s future. Dyer’s portrayal convinces, while her powerful singing commands. And Shug and Celie have one of the best love songs there is.

The finale reveals how well structured the show is, Marsha Norman’s book prepares us for emotion and T’shan Williams excels in delivering it. It is Celie’s journey of self-discovery that makes the show so powerful. I had goosebumps for the last 20 minutes. Acknowledging the beauty in herself and the world, Celie comes to accept her sexuality and her religion in an inspiring and uplifting fashion that, fittingly, ends with a prayer.

Until 7 March 2021

www.curveonline.co.uk

Photos by Manuel Harlan

“Iolanthe” at the Union Theatre

Gilbert and Sullivan are a guilty pleasure. Those confessing admiration can face polite confusion or, at worst, a disdain that might suggest S&M is more acceptable than G&S. There have been many attempts to change opinions about Gilbert and Sullivan but none more liberating than Sasha Regan’s work at the Union Theatre. Her new production of Iolanthe continues this campaign – it is joyous, fun and simply unmissable.

Iolanthe is quite as silly as any other G&S. It’s the one about fairies and the House of Lords. With Regan’s trademark all-male cast, you can imagine where this is heading. But Regan is too clever a director to make things crass, no matter how camp they become. With a nod to Narnia, the action takes place at a school and the magic begins when the costume wardrobe is opened.

This isn’t Gilbert and Sullivan forced into the 21st century. Regan’s masterstroke is not to patronise these eminent Victorians. Gilbert’s satire is still razor sharp and Sullivan’s uncanny ability to write a popular tune ageless. Regan brings out the humour and Chris Mundy’s solo piano accompaniment is a superb interpretation of the score.

The real pay off comes not from innuendo but from sincerity. Victorians could be soppy and G&S were no exception. But Regan allows this so that, behind the laughs, this Iolanthe is sweat. With fairies dressed in furs and pearls and lords wearing conker chains of office, you smile all the way through, while the sentiment washes over you. It is a combination that can only be described as sophisticated.

There is a palpable sense of excitement from a talented cast. Christopher Finn takes the title role in his stride and Shaun McCourt deals impeccably with the Lord Chancellor’s tongue-tying lyrics. It is great to see Alan Richardson at the Union once more. His terrific voice is matched by an endearing stage presence. Kris Manuel is unforgettable in the role of the Fairy Queen, while Matthew James Willis’s Harry Potter-inspired Earl, and Raymond Tait as Private Willis, show off their voices particularly well.

This really is an ensemble piece, as the cast all perform in the equally fantastic realms of the supernatural and the political. As both tripping fairies and noble lords they faultlessly do justice to Mark Smith’s witty choreography. Like the whole production, Smith’s work isn’t just delightful – it is bold and interesting. His use of sign language in dance creates a new level of meaning that complements the humour and excitement of the piece. Regan should join her team on stage as they hold their heads up high when the lords all marry and become fairies themselves! Gilbert and Sullivan fans can come out of the closet at last.

www.uniontheatre.biz

Until 11 December 2010

Photo by Ben de Wynter

Written 23 November 2010 for The London Magazine