BWW Reviews: SOUL, Royal and Derngate, May 27
SOUL is billed as the untold story of Marvin Gaye - but it's really a dysfunctional family drama, with one participant who happens to be famous. He's the son who is desperate for his father's approval but also wants to be the man of the house. Then there's his dominating father who feels he is losing control of his family because he no longer pays the bills and his wife, who is still in love with him despite his fire and brimstone attitude to child-raising and his inability to stay faithful. And there's Marvin's long-suffering sisters, who lead you through his early life and final years, bickering over how Gaye Senior is presented and arguing over whether they should be reliving this at all.
There is not a lot of Gaye's back catalogue in this as the Motown years are largely bypassed. There is some superb singing from the cast - especially Abiona Omunua as Tammi Terrell and Keenan Munn-Francis as Young Marvin - as well as the theatre's own community choir. Nathan Ives-Moiba makes a lean, hungry, angry adult Marvin - alternately dancing through and raving against life. Adjoa Andoh possibly has the most to do as Marvin's mother and she handles it with aplomb - from doting mother defending and protecting her favourite child from his father to besotted wife who can't get her husband to do anything he doesn't want to do, but who can't bring herself to leave either.
The action plays out in a chapel-esque set which changes from church to house to recording studio in the first half and then transforms into the Big House in the second. It's copper-tinged and reflective with carpeted stairs rolling down to the front row, where the two sisters sit to watch some of the action.
As the fashions change and Marvin turns from rebellious teen into troubled superstar, the question of whose fault anything is gets blurred. Is it the unbending father or the drug addicted son? Is Marvin too close to his mother? Does he have a death wish? Is it the drink and drugs talking? SOUL sometimes verges on melodrama and stereotypes, but it is fascinating, disturbing and mesmerising - in the car-crash 'I know where this is going' way, but also in the shivers down the spine as the music swells around you sort of way. If nothing else you'll come out thinking that it's a shame it all got so messy - and that it might have been (at least slightly) different if Terrell had lived longer.
SOUL is at Royal and Derngate until June 11 and then the Hackney Empire from June 15 to July 3.