Sunday, 23 October 2022

REVIEW: Marvellous at @sohoplace

Telling the story of Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin, Marvellous shares many of the qualities of the subject himself; fun, playful, and heartwarming. The action begins with the actors introducing themselves to the audience and inviting us to watch them act out Baldwin's extraordinary life. As they start they are interrupted by Neil himself, played by the fabulous Mike Hugo. From here we are narrated through his biography with the actors cycling through the various characters in Baldwin's life, sometimes with honesty and heart, and sometimes as caricatures with a glint in their eye. This marvellous life is a whirlwind, and the playful performances on stage keep the show exciting and engaging with barrels of laughs and bundles of love. Act 2, as is to be expected in biographical works, tugs more at our heartstrings, before bringing us bouncing into 2022 by the conclusion of the piece.

The cast on Saturday evening consisted of Suzanne Ahmet, Charlie Bence, Gareth Cassidy, Alex Frost, Jerone Marsh-Reid, Perry Moore and Joe Sproulle all playing characters of their own name. The cast is rounded off with Mike Hugo as ‘Real Neil’. Every member of this company was exquisite to watch. Their playfulness and eagerness shone through, and the love they all share for each other, and for Nello, is clear and authentic. Hugo’s portrayal of Neil Baldwin is stunning and respectful and relies on vocal work and physicality that can be tiring to maintain in a production, but he manages it brilliantly. Some special mentions for exquisite performances have to go to Ahmet’s portrayal of Neils's mother, Mary, Bence’s strong and loving Malcolm, Marsh-Reid’s expertly physicalised clown, Frost’s dark and nasty Ringmaster, Moore’s young Neil, and Sproulle’s captivating energy throughout. That brings me to Cassidy. Just wait for his Graham Norton... or his Ken Dodd... the list goes on!

@sohoplace is the first new theatre to open in the West End for 50 years, and it brings with it an air of modern elegance and class. The building glistens in the starlight and mirrors this effect inside with constellations filling the ceilings. What a brilliant testament to the 12 years of work that has gone into this theatre. Nica Burns, who was enjoying the show and chatting to patrons during the evening, has brought something new to London theatres, and the in-the-round configuration of a major West End venue is going to nurture reams of fresh and reimagined productions.

Whilst this show with its deeply Northern roots may well have resonated more with its previous New Vic audience, Marvellous manages to welcome its audience to this swanky new venue with contrastingly silly and life-affirming fun.

Review by Max Topliss

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: C3 | Price of Ticket: £65
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