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A CurtainUp London Review
We return to the meeting of Marvin's parents, Marvin Gay Senior known as "Doc" (Leo Wringer) and the beautiful Alberta (Adjoa Andoh). In order to marry Marvin Gay Senior, Alberta is forced to give up her first child, Michael, not fathered by him and we are given an insight into the harsh and rigid attitude of this pater familias towards his wife and his children. Marvin's sisters Jeanne (Petra Letang) and Zeola (Mimi Ndiweni) narrate the story.
While the West End regularly stages musicals which are little more than tribute concerts of the backlist of a singer or groups, Roy Williams' play gives insight into Gaye's troubled relationship with drugs, alcohol and his hypocritical father. What Soul sadly lacks is Gaye's fabulous music. Maybe the licence costs are too high for smaller productions but it is a great shame because it is this sound that made Marvin Gaye special.
There is a contrast between Gay Senior who has a role in the church as a minister and his wife Alberta whose spirituality shines through and who Marvin Gaye related to and who tried to mediate between father and son. After Marvin buys "the big house" for the family in Los Angeles, Alberta says to her son, "Let him have his pride". Adjoa Andoh as Alberta evokes our sympathy in a complex performance.
Gay the elder is not a sympathetic character, he beats his child, his cross dressing inspired much laughter the night I saw the play and his sexual hypocrisy shocked the audience. Gaye offends his father by promising to build him a church if he moves to California and not fulfilling his promise.
Keenan Munn-Francis plays Marvin Gaye as a child with great charisma and energy and of course, a voice to die for. The sisters say that Gay Senior doesn't dance and the boy takes his preacherly gesticulation and proves the opposite. Nathan Ives-Moiba as the grown up Marvin maybe damaged by all the beatings and bullying joins the US Air Force to get away but ends up being too non conformist for the military.
We get a few bars of "You Are Everything" until Tammi Terrell (Abiona Omonua) dies in Gaye's arms and the sadness of this touching scene is underlined by the song being unfinished. The Mowtown years though are largely missed out and when we see Marvin again in the 1980s drugs have taken their toll and the frenetic movement of Ives-Moiba's performance illustrates these demons.
Jon Bausor's design has a triangular loft space as an upper playing area and often looks like a church.
This is an interesting play but you will want to come home and listen to Marvin Gaye's wonderful songs in context.
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Written by Roy Williams
Story and book by Peter Stone
New musical arrangements by Ian Weinberger
Directed by James Dacre
With: Adjoa Andoh, Nathan Ives-Moiba, Petra Letang, Keenan Munn-Francis, Mimi Ndiweni, Abiona Omonua, Leo Wringer
Choir: Hackney Empire Community Choir
Design: Jon Bausor
Original Music: Gordon Banks
Movement: Anna Morrissey and Diane Alison-Mitchell
Lighting: Mark Howland
Sound: Fergus O'Hare
Video Design: Tal Rosner
Running time: Two hours 10 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 8985 2424
Booking to 3rd July 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 15th June 2016 performance at Hackney Empire, Mare Street, London E8 6NL (Rail/Tube: Dalston Junction, Bethnal Green and a bus)
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