by Meredith Jones Russell
This is a real Christmas treat. Following a delicious festive feed at the Mill’s onsite restaurant before the show (included in the ticket price), settle back to watch a talented cast of dodgy gamblers, Salvation Army missionaries and showgirls perform such classics as ‘Luck Be a Lady,’ ‘The Oldest Established’ and ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat.’
With the definitive MGM film never far from mind, it can be hard to find an original spin to put on Guys and Dolls. Joseph Pitcher’s production doesn’t stray far from the 1955 version but his young cast brings a verve and energy which gives the whole piece a vital boost. Richard Carson is a tremendous Skye Masterson with a mellifluous tenor and glint in his eye. Stephane Anelli is a sleazy, vulpine Nathan Detroit while Natalie Hope as Adelaide brings superb comic timing as well as real heart and empathy to a role that in less capable hands could be in danger of veering towards parody.
The set design is muted – presumably to allow more space for the big numbers – but reflects the seedy gambling dens alongside the everyday bustle of New York with a range of shop fronts and signs. The use of parts of the auditorium to represent phone kiosks or to allow characters to join the audience watching songs is also a nice design touch.
The group numbers, in particular ‘Havana’, are some of the best moments. The dancing is excellent and the semi circular stage of the Mill at Sonning is really able to shine as it provides the audience with a bird’s eye view to see everything that is going on all at once.
The show itself, first performed on Broadway in 1950, doesn’t entirely stand up to modern manners. Adelaide’s desperation to be married, her borderline abusive relationship with Nathan and the ditzy showgirls who perform in tiny costumes at the Hotbox club leave a slightly unpleasant taste in the mouth. But it’s a piece very much of its time, and the lightness of touch in Pitcher’s production allows the plot to play largely second fiddle to the big numbers anyway.
While it may not be a dazzlingly original take on an old classic, do yourself a favour and have a gamble on Guys and Dolls this Christmas. You might be in luck.
Guys and Dolls runs through 23 February.
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