Blues for an Alabama Sky

Blues for an Alabama Sky Reviews starring Samira Wiley & Giles Terera at the National Theatre ★★★★

Reviews are coming in for the revival of Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky, which has opened at the National Theatre in London.

Starring The Handmaid’s Tale and Orange Is The New Black actress Samira Wiley in her West End stage debut, and Olivier Award winner Giles Terera (Hamilton), the play is set in 1930’s Harlem as its famous cultural renaissance is stalled by economic depression.

Former artistic director of the Bush Theatre, Lynette Linton, directs this stunning revival of the play by poet and playwright Pearl Cleage.

The cast also features Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo (Three Sisters), Osy Ikhile (Sweat) and Sule Rimi (Barber Shop Chronicles).

Blues for an Alabama Sky runs until 5 November 2022 in the Olivier Theatre, National Theatre London.

Book now for Blues for an Alabama Sky tickets at the National Theatre

Average Critics Rating

Blues For An Alabama Sky reviews

The Guardian

"Harlem renaissance drama is a tale for our times"

"A group of friends in 1930s New York pursue diverging dreams in a transfixing production of Pearl Cleage’s play directed by Lynette Linton"

"Cleage isn’t afraid to wear her theatre geekery on her sleeve, stuffing an old-fashioned melodrama with sly winks to Ibsen and Tennessee Williams, but the issues she addresses are freshly resonant in a new depression rife with social conservatism"

"Samira Wiley and Giles Terera are fabulously matched as a waiflike singer with an astonishing bluesy voice and a larger-than-life dandy whose horror at bad couture provides a rich seam of frock jokes"

"When the reckoning comes, Cleage argues, it will not be due to revolution, crime or debauchery, but the encouragement of bigotry in the man on the street. A message for our times."

Claire Armitstead, The Guardian
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The Evening Standard

"Deliciously funny and deeply affecting"

"Lynette Linton’s beautiful, light-footed production is a bittersweet delight"

"These characters’ dreams of freedom – racial, sexual, creative, reproductive – are curtailed by the Depression and old orthodoxies. And like all epochal parties, the Harlem Renaissance seems to be happening elsewhere, to other people."

"The plot isn’t exactly unpredictable and the humour is sometimes broad, but Cleage’s writing is fluid and musical and her assertion of personal choice seems ever more timely, 27 years after she wrote it."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Telegraph

"A breathless whirl of Jazz Age joy and Blues at the National Theatre"

"This revival of Blues for an Alabama Sky, Pearl Cleage’ 1930s-set play, is a seamy pleasure, led by Samira Wiley and Giles Terera"

"Topping a faultless five-strong cast in her London stage debut is Samira Wiley (The Handmaid’s Tale, Orange is the New Black), who lights things up with a slinky and impetuous performance as Angel Allen, a good-time girl in crisis"

"... his is a remarkably buoyant piece, which retains a boisterous flair even when Miller-esque tragedy rounds the corner. To get whoops of you-go-girl glee from a press-night audience minutes before gasps of inevitable horror is everything this vital rediscovery deserves."

Tim Robey, The Telegraph
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i News

"Pearl Cleage’s 1995 drama gives our critic the best evening she’s had at the National Theatre in a long time"

"Pearl Cleage is, I imagine, a name unfamiliar to most British theatre lovers. Not any longer, though, as this scintillating 1995 drama will catapult the African-American playwright to everyone’s attention and precipitate a frantic scramble to uncover other gems from her back catalogue."

"Lynette Linton, the going-places artistic director of the Bush Theatre, makes a notable National debut, finding the perfect blend of humour and melancholy in Cleage’s portrait of slowly souring dreams"

"All aspects of the production are in perfect harmony; this is quite the best evening I have spent at the National in a long time."

Fiona Mountford, i News
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"Giles Terera and Samira Wiley are tremendous in this stylish revival of Pearl Cleage’s drama about the Harlem Renaissance"

"'Orange is the New Black’ star Samira Wiley swaps scrubs for sequins in this compelling trip to the glamorous demi-monde of ’30s Black Harlem, forming a winning, endlessly watchable double act with ‘Hamilton’ leading light Giles Terera."

"Sometimes Cleage’s text feels overly heavy-handed, too, in its determination to bring all the tensions of ’30s Harlem down on the shoulders of this little group. But there’s still so much here to love. This play makes a fraught, fascinating era of Black cultural history feel real and alive. It shows that, then as now, claiming the freedom to live authentically comes with sacrifices. And it paints rich, complex friendships with a warmth that stays with you, long after its final notes have faded."

Alice Saville, TimeOut
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The Times

"Good-looking but overlong tale of strivers and hustlers"

"Vintage songs and music composed by Benjamin Kwasi Burrell are an integral part of Lynette Linton’s handsome production. A chorus of apartment dwellers breaks into mournful gospel cadences from time to time, while the lead actors Samira Wiley and Giles Terera have moments where they channel emotion into fragments of song and dance. Those brief interludes galvanise a play which, over the course of nearly three hours, is prone to drift along in sub-Tennessee Williams mode."

"Frankie Bradshaw’s immaculate set, mounted on a revolve, becomes almost a character in its own right. With its nooks and crannies, beautifully lit by Oliver Fenwick, this building has secrets of its own."

Clive Davis, The Times
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The Financial Times

"A wonderful, bittersweet staging at the National Theatre"

"The skill of Cleage’s writing and of Linton’s warm, beautifully paced production is to keep that shimmering hope alive for both characters and audience, while balancing it against tough truths: dreams can be broken by an unplanned pregnancy or a homophobic gang; freedom is curtailed by all those who have a different plan for your body. This last issue, quite shockingly, has gained in topicality since the play was written in 1995."

"Giles Terera is superb as the flamboyantly dressed, fizzingly upbeat Guy: his timing is split-second funny and sharp, but he also lets you see what it costs to maintain this sparkle. Samira Wiley’s mesmerising Angel is a mercurial bundle of contradictions: delicate, stylish, gutsy, selfish, vulnerable and, deep down, scared."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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The Observer

"Thirties Harlem is vibrantly alive at the National"

"What a vital evening. Lynette Linton’s production of Blues for an Alabama Sky shimmies with ease between the down to earth and dreams. Linton has a gift for creating an entire world on stage..."

"Samira Wiley, who would be a wonderful Sally Bowles, sparkles with seductive egotism"

"... Giles Terera – shortly to play Othello – is an explosion. As a dress designer transfixed by Josephine Baker, he gives a giant performance: obsessive, gaudy, yearning"

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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Daily Express

"Slightly rambling and played by a winning ensemble"

"Set in Harlem in 1930, Pearl Cleage's play is a sprightly if conventional tragicomedy about a fistful of friends in pursuit of their dreams."

"Predictable and slightly rambling, it is directed by Lynette Linton with nimble assurance and attractively played by a winning ensemble."

Neil Norman, Daily Express
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📷 Main photo: Blues for an Alabama Sky. Photo by Marc Brenner

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