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We Marvin Gaye’d and got it on!

1. Soul - Nathan Ives-Moiba (Marvin) - credit Robert Day

Ahhhhhhh Marvin Gaye, the singing sensation who holds a haunting appeal to many, not just because of his soulful classics, of which there are many, but more because of his untimely and tragic death on April Fool’s Day 1984. Hours before his 45th birthday, Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father in the shared family home they called the ‘Big House’, and what happened there has been shrouded in mystery ever since.

Until now, where many things unfolded on the stage of The Royal in Northampton (things I knew nothing about; cross dressing – Gaye’s Dad, not Gaye – and certain references bordering on incest). If you’re looking for a jolly musical peppered with Marvin Gaye classics, then this isn’t the play for you. But if you want an insight into the real story, or as real as you can get in front of your eyes, this is for you.

3. Soul - Nathan Ives-Moiba (Marvin) 2 - credit Robert Day

We’re all familiar with Gaye’s songs, even if we don’t know they’re his, after all, he helped to shape the sound of Motown in the 1960s with a string of hits, including How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), Sexual Healing and I Heard It Through the Grapevine. Although ranked as one of the greatest soul singers in the history of popular music, Gaye’s personal life was marred by drug addiction, failed marriages and a tempestuous relationship with his father, and that alongside his huge talent, has kept people interested in him even 30 years after his death.

2. Soul - Nathan Ives-Moiba (Marvin) and Abiona Omonua (Tammi) 2 credit Robert Day

The brilliant actors playing Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

The cast were pretty amazing (such was their presence, I constantly felt there were many more of them than there actually was). Cast members included Adjoa Andoh from BBC’s Casualty (who expertly played Alberta Gay, Marvin’s Mum) and EastEnders actress Petra Letang (who played Marvin’s sister).The portrayal of his sisters was both heartbreaking and funny, and Leo Wringer who played his Dad Marvin Gay Senior, was so good I couldn’t imagine him out of character. Playing Gaye himself was rising star Nathan Ives-Moiba seen recently in As You Like It at the National Theatre (I don’t want to demean his performance, which was both nuanced and well executed, but there is a scene where his dressing gown keeps flying open and he’s in just his pants, and both my female companions said it was a highlight of the play). Seriously though, he was engaging and very watchable, and he had great energy and rapport with the rest of the cast. Each member of the play brought something unique to the production, so much so, the time flew by to the devastating finale (a bit like watching Titanic, when you know all the way through that the damn ship is gonna sink).

4. Soul - Adjoa Andoh (Alberta) and Leo Wringer (Marvin Sr) credit Robert Day

The set was creatively used with a split level bedroom upstairs and the use of lighting – particularly in the scene where Gaye changes from his younger to older self – was superbly effective.  The music is directed by Royal & Derngate’s Artistic Director James Dacre and features the Royal & Derngate Community Choir who did a sterling job. It’s easy to forget that these guys are just like us; they’re not professional actors or used to navigating their way around a stage play in front of hundreds of people, and apart from a couple of sideways looks to check what the others were doing, you wouldn’t have known (and I happily clicked my fingers along to some of the more soulful numbers).


The choir with Gareth Fuller who expertly helps them to pitch perfect


Gaye had an extraordinary life; but ultimately it was a family crushed by fame, a searing portrait of the dark side of the American dream (I said may need to pack tissues and I did). By the end of this production, you don’t envy the family anything, and actually, you feel rather glad you don’t have extraordinary vocal talent.


The smile that hides a thousand demons

All in all this is a fiercely ambitious project that comes off. Personally I would have liked a few more of Gaye’s hits, but I suspect there maybe copyright issues, and also, I guess this production isn’t really about that. I left the theatre knowing more than when I went in, yet with a whole new set of questions. And to me, that’s a daring production that’s achieved what it set out to do!

Soul is on until Saturday 11 June. Tickets are priced from £10 to £29. To check the performance schedule or to book tickets, call Box Office on 01604 624811 or visit Royal & Derngate. The production is recommended ages 14 and upwards.


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4 comments on “We Marvin Gaye’d and got it on!”

  • Lesley Clarke May 31, 2016

    I was interested in going and now I’ve read your review, I’m going to see if I can book!!

    • annaloudearden May 31, 2016

      It’s great. The Royal & Derngate really do have some corkers!

    • annaloudearden June 9, 2016

      Hey Lesley, did you go? Did you enjoy it? Don’t forget you can vote for your favourite Northamptonshire Theatre in Muddy Awards 2016. Not long left to vote for this and 29 other categories.

  • EmmaHill June 9, 2016

    I work at the Royal and Derngate! it’s on until Saturday so definitely get your tickets before they are all gone as they are still some left! Made me cry! and the young boy who plays young Marvin is excellent!


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