Tag Archives: New Vic Theatre

“Marvellous” at the Soho Place Theatre

For the opening of the first purpose-built theatre in London for 50 years, a production from the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme, is sweet. Unfortunately, Marvellous does not live up to a title that tempts fate.

Yet Marvellous has many admirable qualities. Like its subject (and one of its writers), Neil Baldwin, the show is all about feeling good. An eccentric character who did not let any label stand in his way, Baldwin is an inspirational figure. And although it’s based on a film, director Theresa Heskins tries to make the show as theatrical as possible. Well done.

The New Vic is in the round – just like this new swanky venue. I suspect that made the transfer seem like a good idea and Heskins handles the format expertly. But an easy fit doesn’t make up for the show’s failings or even play to its strengths. The latter first. While Baldwin was a true local hero (and mascot for the football club), a lot of information about the Potteries is taken for granted. The detail would go down great where the show comes from, but the jokes (and the nostalgia) need tweaking for a wider audience.

As for failings – well, maybe that’s a bit harsh. There’s nothing wrong with Marvellous… but it is long. And it’s too clear that an easy edit would improve the show considerably.

The performances are good, especially Suzanne Ahmet who plays (mostly) Neil’s mother, and Gareth Cassidy who shows off a lot of accents. The cast nearly all take on the role of Neil through his life so there are lots of jokes about performance and the acting craft. And they are joined by a ‘Real Neil’ (Perry Moore did a great job the night I saw the show), whose naivety adds to this source of fun. Everyone is hard working, with slapstick and physical comedy thrown in.

The problem is that every joke is repeated.

It’s sweet that Neil has a ‘magic’ shopping bag that props appear from, that the cast pretend to be cupboards, or that local radio presenters who comment on the footie are impersonated. But we don’t need these jokes in triplicate. While the story is fun and Neil Baldwin winning, it does go on… and on. The ideas on inclusion and community can’t be argued with. But the delivery is laboured and the message ends up heavy handed.

Until 26 November 2022


“The Thrill of Love” at the St James Theatre

The Thrill of Love has newly arrived in London from the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme. A small admission of bias – I saw (and loved) my first ever play at the beautiful New Vic, so I can’t help feeling proud of it for producing this skilful take on the Ruth Ellis story.

Ellis was, of course, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, in 1955, and the play’s focus is entirely on her – her murdered lover David Blakely doesn’t even make an appearance. She’s a complex character, who loves neither wisely nor well, abused but also admirably independent, with a drink problem and mental instability that makes you question the soundness of her conviction. It’s a dream role that Faye Castelow makes the most of, and the play’s author, Amanda Whittington, unflinchingly recreates Ellis’s milieu – the gentlemen’s clubs that served as seedy ‘trading floors’ for a ‘girl on the up’ with a misplaced sense of stardom (Hilary Tones gives a tremendous performance as the manageress of The Court Club in Duke Street).

As a narrative device, a detective attempts to fathom Ellis’ motivation for the crime. Despite Robert Gwilym’s best endeavours, it’s the weakest link in the show – odd when everything else is so sure-footed. The sound design and original music from James Earls-Davis are superb, and talented director James Dacre provides terrific theatrical moments, including a key scene where Ellis performs a disturbing striptease accompanied by a diagnosis from the prison doctors.

The Thrill of Love is not a documentary, and the most impressive aspect of Whittington’s writing is the space she makes for her own concerns about women and justice, despite the wealth of factual details. While hindsight sees Ellis as a tragic figure, Blakely was clearly a victim too, and this writing is too strong to eulogise his murderer. We hear nothing from the prosecution, but the case for the defence is thrillingly presented.

Until 4 May 2013


Photo by Andrew Billington

Written 4 April 2013 for The London Magazine