Front Row Reviewers

Marvellous in London’s West End Was Magnificent

Front Row Reviewers

Front Row Reviewers

By Jennifer Mustoe

I have never seen a world premiere play in a brand new theater, much less outside the US, but in October 2022, world premiere play Marvellous opened in the gorgeous @sohoplace in London‘s West End and I was lucky enough to attend.

It’s the life story of Neil Baldwin, a hero in the United Kingdom, because he knew he was destined for great things–and he found them. In Marvellous, we see (Mike Hugo as Real Neil) play out Baldwin’s extraordinary life–and this brave and hopeful man has some disabilities, which is why it makes so much better. It is a true story and it is sweet, mesmerizing, delightful, touching–all the things.

The troupe of actors begin the show and Hugo emerges from the audience to start narrating his story. Baldwin’s speech is somewhat difficult to understand, but Hugo is articulate and we could tell he not only embraces Neil’s character, he appears to love his character. I could feel it. (At first, I honestly thought when Neil left his seat and entered the stage, it was the real Neil coming to just say Hello on opening night.)

Why is Neil Baldwin such a hero? To be honest, because I’m not from the UK, I had never heard of him and at first was baffled. But as Marvellous continues, we see so much of who Baldwin is and has been. And indeed, apparently everyone who meets Baldwin becomes his friend. And from we saw onstage, he is a friendly person that attracts friendly people.

Here are some of the things Neil Baldwin has accomplished and become. I am impressed, of course. Not many people can claim to have done even half of these things, and look at the variety of experiences:
He hitchhiked across the country.|
Became a famous clown.
Got an honorary degree from Keele University.
Was appointed legendary kit man (sports equipment manager) for Stoke City–a professional football (soccer) club based in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England.
Appeared on the Queen’s New Year Honours list.
Accepted a BAFTA award for the film made about his life.

The entire troupe of Marvellous is a wonder in and of itself. They worked together as a cohesive unit on the four-sided stage, playing a variety of characters. The troupe employs neuro-divergent members and that brings a layer of depth and warmth I’ve rarely seen onstage. The cast members are: Suzanne Ahmet (Suzanne), Charlie Bence (Charlie), Gareth Cassidy (Gareth), Alex Frost (Alex), Mike Hugo (Real Neil), Jerone Marsh-Reid (Jerone), and Daniel Murphy (Daniel.) It would be repetitive to call them marvellous. Some better words: exuberant, committed, delightful, authentic. These people were fantastic, and really, looking at the photos of the performance shows this better than any words I can write. (Photos by Craig Sugden.)

The theater, @sohoplace, is a wonder. It has that new house smell, and glitters like a diamond. For more information on its inception, here is a link from “The Guardian.” I chuckle as I write: you should really go see a show in a brand new theater. I mean, how possible is this? Not very and not often. But I wondered if I was attending a special function, a red carpet event. And indeed, I was. I mean, I was sitting in a seat no paying guest had ever sat in. That may not be a big deal to you, but it was to me and my companion who attended Marvellous. I felt privileged, special. And in those walls, I could feel the beauty coming, not just from the show we watched, but for what was surely to come. This is London’s West End, after all. Home to some of the greatest theater in the English speaking world. Now @sohoplace is showing Shakespeare‘s As You Like It and next up is Medea starting in mid-February. For more information, here’s the link to @sohoplace.

Marvellous, written by Neil Baldwin and Malcolm Clarke and adapted for the stage by Neil Baldwin and Theresa Heskins, who is also the director, is a small miracle. Looking at the patrons around the stage, I saw smiles a-plenty, a few tears (the story is touching and identifiable), and pure love for fun and for life. The show is filled with color, sound, movement–all I wanted to see. It was vibrant. That’s the word: vibrant.

As a citizen of the United States (originally from California but now in Utah), some of the jokes and references to England went right over my head. But it didn’t matter at all. I laugh whenever I see laughing people, and the audience was filled with them. When I see shows that are clearly British-centric, I wonder if they would translate well to different markets. I don’t think it would be difficult for American audiences to understand Marvellous and its wonderful message of courage, hope, and joy would come through quite well. I hope it can find its way to all the stages it can. Baldwin’s story is one we can all benefit knowing about and seeing. A true gem. (And oh by the way, it was my birthday and this was an unexpectedly amazing birthday gift to me.)

Neil Baldwin Writer, Malcolm Clarke Writer, Theresa Heskins Writer and Director, Lis Evans Designer, Caroline Wilkes Associate Director, Daniella Beattie Lighting & Projection Designer,
Beverley Norris-Edmunds Movement Director, James Earls-Davis Original Sound Designer,
Alex Day New Vic Sound Designer, Paul Groothuis Sound Designer for London transfer,
Conrad Nelson Original Musical Director/Composer, James Atherton Musical Director Cover,
Jenny Holford Personal Assistant to neurodiverse actors, Caroline Hetherington Vocal coach,
Anji Carroll Casting Associate, Patrick Molony and Chris Easton Production Management

For more information about Neil Baldwin and Marvellous, there is a TV movie, Marvellous, as well as a book written by Baldwin and Clarke.

@sohoplace 4 Soho Place, Charing Cross Road, W1D 3BG
Neil Baldwin Facebook Page
@sohoplace Facebook Page

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