Alex Frost stars in the opening production of @sohoplace, the New Vic’s much acclaimed production Marvellous, directed by Theresa Heskins.
The New Vic theatre is the oldest purpose built, in-the-round theatre in the UK and @sohoplace is the first new West End theatre in 50 years, with a flexible, 602-seat auditorium, purpose built and opening in-the-round.
Marvellous is the joyful, inspiring true story of Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin who, defying all expectations, has led and continues to lead, the most amazing life. The show is performed by a talented company including neuro-divergent actors.
Marvellous, starring Alex Frost, is at @sohoplace until 26 November 2022. Tickets are on sale here
You’re starring in Marvellous at the brand new @sohoplace, what can you tell us about the show?
Marvellous tells the true life story of Neil Baldwin. Growing up in Newcastle Under Lyme, Stoke on Trent, in the 1950’s in less enlightened times, a lad with learning difficulties throughout his childhood, Neil was not expected to be a success. But Neil decided he was destined to do wonderful things and that his life was going to be marvellous. And it is.
He hitchhiked across the country and became a famous clown – “Nello”. Received an honorary degree from Keele University, was appointed Stoke City’s legendary kit man and mascot by Lou Macari, appeared on the Queen’s New Year Honours list and accepted a BAFTA Award for the film made about his life starring Toby Jones.
Not bad for a man who turns 77 on his next birthday! A friend to anyone he meets, he has become a local hero and an inspiration to the world.
Tell us a little more about your character, what do you enjoy most about the role and what do you find most challenging?
I play Alex myself – the actor, Neil – at ages three, four and nine and when not doing that, we the cast, play everyone else in Neil’s life he meets along the way – even His Majesty, King Charles III!
What I love about all of this, is that we celebrate each person’s individual uniqueness and finding happiness in yourself and being kind to others. And of course, Neurodiversity, which is very important to me as a Neurodiverse actor and to the story.
It’s the impact that Neil has on everyone he meets. I have never seen a reaction like it in a theatre. Performing these roles in theatre in the round demands fast action, movement, vocal attack and sincere performances. Then of course when you are telling a true life story and then when that person is watching every single show, that could bring its own challenges, but Neil is so positive he finds the whole thing “Marvellous” and that is the best compliment of them all.
This production opens the first new West End Theatre in fifty years, how does it feel to be a part of that?
It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. To say you are one of the first cast members in the opening production of the first brand new purpose built theatre in the West End in 50 years is very special.
Then it’s the story. I am a Stoke lad, so to be telling a Stoke story about a local legend and then taking it to London’s glittery West End is a real pinch me moment and one I am incredibly proud of.
But for me the most incredible thing, as a Neurodiverse Actor with an unseen disability, in my case – Asperger’s Syndrome, to be in a leading role, celebrating diversity, in an inclusive cast with three neurodivergent actors, including an actor who has down’s syndrome, has never, I don’t think, been seen before on a West End Stage. So, it’s incredibly powerful and a huge step forward. We must celebrate diversity – not tolerate and that must be worth fighting for.
Tell us more about the rest of the cast?
It’s a cast of 7. Three of us who are Neurodiverse and with down syndrome. We all have a great chemistry together both on and off the stage. Something that also sells the authenticity of the show.
We found great connections, not only with each other but with the backstage crew, creatives, theatre staff and FOH. Which was really important to us as it’s so true to Neil’s philosophy, Neil is a friend to everyone he meets. We are like a family. It’s a project I will never forget. In Neil’s words “I met a lot of nice people and I am glad I did”
And why do you think the configuration of @sohoplace will be ideal for Marvellous?
Theatre in the round, it is an exciting cockpit, it’s real. It’s basically theatre in 3D. It’s where people talk and meet with added intimacy, unlike proscenium arch theatres. It’s bold and it’s surprising.
Much like Neil’s life – It will inspire and entertain, the kind that will give you goosebumps and bring tears to your eyes. The kind that makes you clap until your hands hurt and make you feel like your heart is going to burst. And leaves you with a spring in your step as you head home. That is the power of theatre in the round and Neil’s story.
What would you say to anyone thinking of booking to see Marvellous at @sohoplace?
When disability, is featured in mainstream media or on the stage, it is often vulnerability, naivety or tragedy that is emphasised. Marvellous does not do that. It gloriously subverts these expectations with humour, self – determination and victory.
You will laugh, you will cry, and you will be inspired. Above all, you will leave the theatre on a wave of happiness and it will show you, if you have dreams, even when society has given you a label, anything is possible!