22 October 2022
4.0 out of 5.0 stars
The first new West End theatre in over 50 years opened its doors in October! Of course I couldn’t resist checking the theatre out, so I bought a ticket for the first show they hosted, Marvellous.
@sohoplace is housed in a shiny new glass and chrome building, with a small seating area outside the main entrance, a restaurant and bar inside, and a 602-seater theatre. For this performance, it was arranged in the round, with the stage just above knee height for the front row.
For a brand new theatre I did expect it to be a bit more comfortable. I booked an end-of-row seat in the front row, and it was very narrow with little leg room. Which all seats look to have great sight-lines, it did baffle me a bit that patron comfort wasn’t taken into account more. Several people seated around me complained about how little space they had, especially for their legs.
Other than that, it’s a beautiful theatre that seems to have good accessibility from what I could see. There’s a lift, two wheelchair spaces in the stalls, and accessible toilets on each level. For patrons without access needs, there’s a few stairs to climb, but they are well lit and quite wide, so it didn’t get too crowded even during busy times.
Marvellous is the stage adaptation of the life story of Neil “Nello” Baldwin, a Stoke-On-Trent local celebrity who led an adventurous and unexpected life.
Born in 1946, Neil was diagnosed with a “learning disability” as a child, which is of course an antiquated term. But many things in this story seem quite outdated and “of their time” and cannot be measured with today’s views and knowledge.
Despite his family worrying about his future, Neil forged an interesting life for himself, from appointing himself a greeter at Keele University, over becoming a professional Clown to famous kit man for Stoke City FC.
This colourful life story, with all its ups and downs, achievements and challenges, is unravelled on stage in a humorous, slap-stick manner, well suited for Nello the Clown. Full of joy and life-affirming celebrations, it’s a marvel to watch.
As previously mentioned, many parts of this biography would be unlikely to happen today. There’s a very fine line between someone volunteering for something they are passionate about, and exploitation of a neurodivergent person, and this line is definitely blurred when it comes to Neil’s life.
Is it really charming and quirky to turn up at celebrities’ houses to demand an autograph? Or to dress up as a vicar to gain access to spaces and trust of people? Or were those things that could be overlooked 60+ years ago but wouldn’t go over well today?
Did Neil’s humour really make him the iconic Stoke mascot, or did people simply laugh at him rather than with him?
These questions are impossible to answer definitively, but did linger in my mind after the show. Though if you can put these examinations out of your mind, it is a very funny show that celebrates the life of a unique and determined person who refused to let life stand in his way and approached every situation and person with so much positivity and joy, it simply spread everywhere he went.
Beautifully presented and approached with so much love and respect for its subject, Marvellous is a sparkling show that suits the newest West End Theatre very well.