After selling it to my flatmate with the premise “it’s about Motown. Or something”, I felt duty-bound to explain myself in that I hadn’t actually read too much about play The Sapphires, at The Barbican, before going to see it. It was free, thanks to FreeB, the Barbican ticket service for under 26s, so she could hardly complain.
It turns out The Sapphires is to Motown what boyband Blue is to Stevie Wonder. A poor rendition of the real deal but, sort of entertaining in a ‘we didn’t pay for it’ kind of way.
The Sapphires tells the story of four Aboriginal soul ‘sisters’ (i’ll get to that part) from the outback of Australia. Discovered singing in a club by manager Lovelace Dave, he takes them on a whistlestop tour of Vietnam to entertain the US troops. Hilarity ensues (except when someone gets blown up by a landmine, but to be fair I did laugh).
When the band finished playing the opening song, I couldn’t help but feel a sort of sympathetic encouragement, like you might feel watching your young nephew’s school play, so I really wanted to like it. Once i’d laid my preoccupation with issues of characterisation aside, I did enjoy singing along to the Motown classics, though none but one of the girls had a voice strong or velvety enough to do them justice.
I found myself entirely confused by the race issue. While they were portrayed to be black, I saw no clues that they were Aboriginal. All in all, the whole show was pretty shambolic; one curtain was stuck in the middle of the stage through two songs and no-one seemed too bothered. The performances lacked energy and the outfits fell short.
The Sapphires: Wednesday 2 – Saturday 12 March 2011 at The Barbican Theatre