The New Vic gained national recognition in its early years for its dramas by local writers and productions relating to North Staffordshire. It is fitting then that it should celebrate its sixtieth anniversary by showcasing the heart-warming story of one of North Staffordshire’s own. And Marvellous will rank among the best.
Neil Baldwin’s life has already come to national attention with an award-winning film but the delightful story of an ordinary man overcoming adversity was just begging to be adapted for the stage and presented to a local audience. Full praise to Director Theresa Heskins for finding new angles to the story. She – along with Neil – has produced a delicious piece of theatre that shows the highs and lows of a life extraordinary.
Through the production we learn how Neil got his name, witness his trials in early life, discover why he became an ambassador for Keele University, learn about how he ran away to the circus and then became involved with Stoke City.
The story is told in an interesting way. A group of actors has gathered to tell Neil’s tale only to find that the man himself is sitting in the audience. As would be usual for Neil, he wants to help the cast to get the facts of his story right and eventually joins them on stage to direct the whole operation.
The real Neil Baldwin is played by New Vic favourite Michael Hugo who once again produces a masterful performance. For anyone who has met Nello in real life, they would recognise that Hugo is not just playing a part but has truly become Neil as he adopts his mannerisms and character to perfection.
Hugo, though, is just one of a super cast who all play multiple roles with members taking turns to portray Baldwin at different times of his life. Suzanne Ahmet is the doting mother that we would all like to have while Gareth Cassidy makes another triumphant return to the New Vic stage. Daniel Murphy plays his parts with gusto and an obvious pride while New Vic debutants Charlie Bence, Alex Frost and Jerone Marsh-Reid all put in performances to suggest that they would be welcomed back with open arms.
The production has many comical scenes that provide huge entertainment to the audience but there are sadder episodes too. Neil says that it is alright to be upset and he comes across cruelty in life – the neighbour who questions his early development, the playground bully, the theft of his caravan and inappropriate behaviour by Stoke City players – but fights back to rise above it all as he lives out his philosophy of being happy and making others happy.
The greatest compliment to be paid to this production is that it draws the viewer into the life of Nello. Captivated by the action, the audience were sucked into his world. Amused by the abundance of humour and upset at his misfortunes, they grieved over the loss of his beloved mother. The audience left the building feeling honoured to have participated in the story of an ordinary man who overcame early adversity to live a rich and varied life. A true slice of theatrical magic.
The production continues until 9th April. For ticket information contact 01782 717962 or email@example.com
Listen to Dave Stringer in conversation with Tony Walley about this fantastic show: