Skip to main content

Review of Soul at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

A few professional critics have had quite a bit of a downer on the new play Soul by Roy Williams exploring the hidden story behind the death of great Marvin Gaye. Their bugbear, the lack of his original music within the play. One even resorted to giving Soul a two star rating. However with all due respect to their opinion, as that is what a critic at the end is doing every time, they are clearly wrong to take this single omission and use it to beat this singularly brilliant play with it. There was enough explanation of lack of music ahead of debut and any professional critic would have seen it. Soul is not about Gaye's music, it is about his life, and his eventual tragic death.

I have had one experience with Roy Williams' work before, Days Of Significance, and I freely admit it was one of the most vicious and hideously repellent plays I have seen. Oh how different Soul is, a gorgeously worked piece, filled with heart and love of the story it is depicting. Told through the eyes of Marvin's sisters, Jeanne (Petra Letang) and Zeola (Mimi Ndiweni), standing proud at the front of the stage often, moving us through the story of his early life. It is a style that takes a little getting used to at first and I was genuinely concerned that this wasn't going to work for me for awhile. However as more of the story begins playing out with the cast and less through the telling of the sisters, I became more absorbed in the tale being told.

The Gay family is clearly a devoutly religious one, however as the play tells us, they are also a hotbed of emotionally troubled ones. Marvin Gay Senior is played with total realism and wide-eyed stare by Leo Wringer. Through those eyes you can almost see the unstable nature of the character coming through, mixing god-fearing, brutality at Marvin Jnr, womanising and a slightly more rare clothing hobby, Wringer literally takes his character through a literal wringer of emotion. He is brilliant and is is surrounded by an exceptional cast as well.

Perhaps no one better is Adjoa Andoh as the stability of the Gay household, Alberta. Without her input you could very imagine that this family would have derailed completely much earlier. She is for the best part the one you feel the most sorrow for through the story, trapped in a dysfunctional family and trying desperately to make it work, while Marvin Snr freely brings his lovers home and beats his family, she remains dedicated to making this family work.

However the roles of Marvin Gaye (Nathan Ives-Moiba) and Young Marvin (Keenan Munn-Francis) are the key ones, and these two bring everything that you would pretty much want. As young Marvin, Munn-Francis has a wonderfully innocent and bubbly personality at first, yet in that confrontation scene with his father, high impact as the boy visibly grows up before our eyes. As well as being a brilliant singer, in one scene he shows prodigious ball control talent in a quite brilliant scene. Very much a star performance.

Ives-Moiba literally becomes Gaye in his role, looking totally the part and travelling through the gamut of emotions from dramatic stirring love for Tammi Terrell (an incredible, but oh so brief performance from Abiona Omonua), to sorrow at loss, and building to those incredibly played out scenes confronting his father at the end. There is a scene following a death where Gaye throws himself into writing and this is not only expertly played by Ives-Moiba, but created brilliantly by movement director Anna Morrissey. One of the single best scenes I have seen in the Royal.

Perhaps also one of the best things I have witnessed in the Royal is the set from Jon Bausor (and the magical people of the Royal Theatre in crafting it). The ambition and skill that is being put into each and every Made In Northampton play puts many large touring productions in the Derngate to utter shame. During the first half the set is not only stunning to look at, but is also a living breathing creature, effortlessly drifting into the position required of the actors as scenes shift. I have seen few better and for scene changes, it is the most smooth ever. The second half it is not required to move, but just look stunning and realistic, this it does with ease. It is an absolute thing of beauty,

Director James Dacre is at his best, once again allowing the scenes to shift from location to location with no delay. Even allowing for the fact that there are some tremendously quick changes of locations required from the cast, everything still remains seamless. With the lack of original Gaye music (this is not ever a problem for me), it is left to the tremendously talented Royal & Derngate Community Choir. These on stage often during the first half and still visible but elsewhere for the second, bring emotion and heart to the production and their use really does bring a great deal to the show.

So without doubt one of the best of recent Made In Northampton offerings, telling a story of family tragedy in a grand style. Full of brilliant performances, wonderful music and a set that is one of the very best out there for the searing story to be played out on. Tremendous.

««««½


Performance reviewed: Thursday 26th May, 2016 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.

Soul runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 11th June, 2016 before moving to the Hackney Empire.

For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Great Expectations by The Royal & Derngate Actors Company at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Market Boy from The Actors Company last year was a remarkable show and is likely to stay with me for a long time, so following it with this year's production was always going to be a tough call and with their production of the epic Dickens classic Great Expectations, they at least didn't lack ambition.

I have to be honest, things for me didn't start well. The first few minutes of this adaptation by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod is a busy and convoluted sequence moving the opening part of the story in an unclear and often irritating way. For those present not aware of the original story, I wouldn't envy them trying to keep up with what is going on. However much of the trouble of this opening sequence is quickly corrected as scenes become more defined and controlled and the story is allowed to develop at a slower pace.

Perhaps also in the early part, it doesn't help either that the gender-swapped Magwitch played by Salli Bersham is a little too full on with the o…

Review of Once Upon A Grimm Tale by The Royal & Derngate Actors Company (Early) at Judge's Lodgings, Northampton

Once upon a time, there was a brave theatrical reviewer. He lived in a market town in deepest darkest Englaland, where many great and remarkable things of stage did occur. At the centre of this wondrous world of performing spectacles was a place referred to by many as the Royal Derngatus, a place of people pretending to be other people and telling tales of mystery, intrigue and frolics.

Within the fortressed walls of Royal Derngatus, there were a group of fearless players who entertained local folk for no reward, other than the thrill of seeing the joy in the faces of others. Those group of artists went by the name of Actors Companus, which many pronounced carefully when they did say it out loud. This group of merry men and women did have two forms, an early and a late, and but two days before this adventurous evening of forthcoming storytelling, the late group did perform for a third and final time a most amazing feat of theatre, going by the name of Great Expectations.


Our hero of thi…

Review of Hansel & Gretel by Warts & All at Delapré Abbey, Northampton

For those unfamiliar with Kneehigh Theatre (from where this show originally comes), the best way of explaining them is that they do traditional things, differently. This performance by Warts and All Theatre of their adaptation of the classic tale of Hansel & Gretel tells you much of what you need to know early on as a (human) rabbit is pinned down upon a table and skinned (half their costume removed). It is just one of an evening of wacky and quite brilliant moments as this production sours mostly for the sky of brilliance.

Handed to a cast of young performers, the result is often disturbingly professional. Sure it is still rough around the edges at times, but perhaps this helps the material. It doesn't actually matter if there is sparring from the cast with the audience, knowing looks and playfulness. It doesn't matter if one of the cast nearly knocks the cymbal of the musicians flying, perhaps it would have been even better if they had, this is anachic fun at its very b…