Blues for an Alabama Sky at the National Theatre
Blues for an Alabama Sky is an engaging play – so much so that the audience at last night’s performance couldn’t help but participate. Beyond the simple National Theatre giggles and gasps, there were loud laughs and funny comments. Not that this detracted from the experience; if anything, it elevated it into a reflective portrait of human dreams.
And then, for one moment, for one agonising and captivating moment…
As easily as the play brought out the most expressive of human emotions, it just as easily doused them, leaving the packed auditorium drenched in stillness.
Starring Orange is the New Black’s Samara Wiley as the bombastic but delicate Harlem singer, Angel Allen, Blues for an Alabama Sky takes place during the explosion of African American art known as the Harlem Renaissance. Alongside her costume designer roommate, Guy Jacobs (Giles Terera), nervous advocate neighbour, Delia Patterson (Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo) and outgoing doctor, Sam Thomas (Sule Rimi), Angel navigates her world with goals and aspirations in hand, until the arrival of a Southern suitor (Osy Ikhile) puts a spanner in the works.
This revival of Pearl Cleage’s 1995 play is an explosion of colour and noise, directed to perfection by Lynette Linton and staged on the most wonderful rotating set. Each character feels both real and hyperreal, a reflection of our innermost desires and wants wrapped up in neat parcels of explosive personality. Every moment of interaction between Angel, Guy, Delia and Sam feels perfectly weighted, moving with a ferocity and passion that draws the attention and just doesn’t let go.
The many instances of levity are balanced by the weight of reality, bearing down on the characters like an anvil. It reflects not only the past, in its pin-point portrayal of the period and the role that Black feminism played in the struggle for abortion rights, but also the present in the crushing weight of the decisions that Angel and her friends must make.
Blues for an Alabama Sky is an exceptional play. A kaleidoscopic explosion of feeling, with electric performances and the perfect balance of wit and drama. Most important, however, is the heart at the play’s centre, which beats with the passion, excitement and devastation of the period.
Photo: Marc Brenner
Blues for an Alabama Sky is at the National Theatre from 21st October until 5th November 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.