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/

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Blue/Orange at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The challenging and socially relevant Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall was published in 2000 and back then, this caustic exploration of mental health, and more specifically black mental health issues, was a tremendously relevant play. When it debuted on stage in London, the cast of just three was played by Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Director James Dacre doesn't have those names to play with so much in his cast, however here, he has worked with the writer himself to rework the play for a more modern audience. Does it still shock, and is the relevance still there today? Sadly, perhaps, the answer is yes, as doctors Bruce Flaherty and Robert Smith come to verbal blows over the health of patient Christopher, at times, you feel 21 years shed little light on how mental health is approached. Many references in the script, still sit unquestionably in the year 2000, however, with this reworking, one thing has changed dramatically. In the original version of the play, the two

Review of Sister Act by the Northampton Musical Theatre Company at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

South Pacific at Royal & Derngate last year set a remarkable benchmark for an "amateur" production, with a large talented cast, superb vocals, sets and a polish up there with a professional production. Sister Act, this years production from the Northampton Musical Theatre Company was more of the same, but perhaps taken up a notch or two. Sister Act is a musical based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg comedy and was first performed in 2009. Written by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, it is a likable and fun musical which genuinely came as a surprise to me. The opening scene at Curtis's Bar and Nightclub is to be honest not the best though and genuinely didn't fill me with much hope. It feels as if it gives nothing to the cast, although it creates the premise of the story coupled with the incident outside the bar. Likewise, I didn't take much to the Police Station scene either, so it didn't bode well. When we reach the Queen Of Angels Cathedral though, this show

Review of Shrek (NMTC) at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Three and a half years ago, in a land far far away, in a world very different to the one we are now in, I saw the touring professional production of Shrek The Musical , it was a mixed bag of quality, tilted extremely heavily in favour of one particular character (not the one you might expect) and not firing on all cylinders much of the time. One and a half years after my last visit to the Derngate theatre, I return to see the homegrown Northampton Musical Theatre Company's own take on the very same show. Would they be able to breathe more life into the show than the professionals did in that distant land? It is a bit of a yes and no really. Pretty much all of this is done to the best possible standard, and at times, with being an amateur show you could easily forget, they all have normal day jobs. The show oozes professional quality at times. The set looks magnificent, the costumes (from Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium) are superb, and as ever with NMTC, the backstage team c