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