Soho Place, London, until November 26
It takes chutzpah to put on a show in the West End these days and stupendous chutzpah to found the first new theatre in the West End for half a century. Nica Burns deserves a round of applause just for managing to get the doors to Soho Place opened. It’s a smart, squeaky-clean new venue with a restaurant, plenty of entertaining space and a great auditorium.
Fittingly, the inaugural production is Marvellous, a celebration of chutzpah. It tells the story of Neil Baldwin, a former clown, Stoke City Football Club mascot, honorary graduate of Keele University and the subject of a celebrated television drama of the same name that starred Toby Jones.
On the first night there were a bewildering number of Neil Baldwins in attendance. The entire 10-strong cast announced they were playing him. Sitting in front of me was the supposedly real Neil, who told the cast it wouldn’t do at all for them to play him, and, handing his box of Cadbury’s Roses to a fellow punter, took to the stage and said he was going to play himself.
The “real Neil” was in fact the actor Michael Hugo, who went on to make a very good job of Baldwin, which is just as well as the real real Neil was also sitting in the audience, in black tie, now 76 years old and looking very distinguished.
Baldwin co-wrote the play himself with his friend Malcolm Clarke, and, with their director Theresa Heskins, they have created a wonderfully human and good-natured piece of theatre. Hugo achieves a very moving chemistry with Suzanne Ahmet as his mother, and there isn’t a dry eye in the house as the ever-cheerful Baldwin casts the only tears of his whole life when he learns of her death.
Baldwin made a conscious decision to be happy early on in life – no matter what – and in that he sets a great example for us all.
Marvellous has got Soho Place off to a marvellously good start and I wish it well, but I very much hope Nica will rethink the name of this theatre as it makes it sound like a private members’ club. We’ve theatres in the capital that commemorate the names of Gielgud and Olivier, and so she could do a lot worse than call this the Richardson. It is Sir Ralph’s due.