Director, Theresa Hawkins has assembled actors who play versions of Baldwin, whilst “Real Neil” (Michael Hugo) oversees the action and shapes the play. The piece has some semblance of a chronology but sometimes, directed by the Real Neil, skips out of sequence to dreamlike sketches. The actors, playing a little exhausted by this are quick to humorously point out that it’s non-linear. This cleverly gives us insight into the way Neil flits through life. Very occasionally though, this and its relentlessly quick narrative, means we get a little lost.
Michael Hugo is charming as the “Real Neil”. His expressionless yet zestful portrayal is so convincing that my theatre buddy (who was familiar the story), thought it was really Neil, until I pointed out that Baldwin was sitting in the audience! It tells you a lot about Nello’s refreshing self-belief that someone would think he’d play himself and Hugo encapsulates this characteristic. He’s also playful and funny, drawing us in with his positivity.
We understand how Neil’s acquainted himself with royalty, Gary Lineker and the Archbishop of Canterbury, as the supporting cast all capture his optimism. With vigour, they also take on other characters Nello encounters throughout his life. Gareth Cassidy has us in stitches when he’s directed to play a character, but given the wrong accent several times, so veers into Northern Irish, Scottish, Geordie and more with ease and gusto.