Arts & Culture: The Sapphires

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

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3 thoughts on “Arts & Culture: The Sapphires

  1. Wow, it’s just as well you didn’t have to pay for it. I can’t help but think you must be hard to please though because other audience reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.

    In Australia, being classed as an Aborigine comes from having Aboriginal ancestors and identifying as Aboriginal. Skin colour has nothing to do with it. Many of today’s Aborigines have some European ancestry and some of them are very fair skinned. What a shame they weren’t ‘black’ enough for you and you seemed to have spent a fair bit of time being ‘preoccupied’ about it rather than enjoying the show.

    I’ve seen the show three times and I don’t recall a ‘black power’ salute, especially during ‘Think’. Do you carry some kind of fear or guilt about black people that would cause you to think this way?

    Anyway, the play does finish with a display of pride in being Aboriginal, something to which I think they entitled to especially considering how they’ve been treated from the days of British imperialist expansion to the not very distant past. At least that’s how I see it. To my knowledge that’s how audiences in Australia saw it too.

    1. Firstly, I want to address your accusation about my ‘guilt’ about black people. You could not be more wrong, but if that is the impression I have given in my review then I have done myself a serious injustice. I also agree with your point about them ‘not being black enough for [me]’. While this is in no way the point I was making, you are right, it is ignorant to assume a black woman could not have fair-skin. I am assuming you have not seen the adaptation at the Barbican, because there was no clear display, or any clear indication that they were aboriginal; I had to read a synopsis online to find that out. Perhaps the race issue was somewhat underplayed, because I was left very confused over the issue. This is the point I was trying to make.

      You have taken an albeit negative review which focuses almost entirely on staging issues to be somehow ‘racist’ because I didn’t enjoy it and I mention race. It is not an issue I will shy away from or be scared to write about, but I take your points on board, thank you.

      1. I have made some amendments as I didn’t make my point about the Aboriginal back-story as well as i’d have liked. I stand by my point that this was confusing for me, perhaps it was played down in this adaptation.

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