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Review: Guys & Dolls (Bridge Theatre)

Review by Daz Gale


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

One of the most talked about and sensational shows of the last twelve months is surely Guys & Dolls at Bridge Theatre. Seemingly ripping up the rulebook of how such a classic musical should be staged, their bold approach really set the standard for immersive theatre and has quite deservedly been nominated for multiple Olivier awards this week. Having reviewed the show when it first opened last year, I made a return trip to check out the new cast. I wouldn’t usually review the same production again for a cast change but there were some surprises along the way this time around, and I found myself inspired to talk once more about why this show is continually rockin’ the boat.

 


One of the enduring classics of musical theatre, Guys & Dolls first premiered on Broadway in 1950, crossing the pond to open in the West End three years later. Since then it has been revived multiple times, with this latest iteration at Bridge Theatre recently celebrating its first anniversary. Set in New York City, it is set around Nathan Detroit and his fellow gamblers as they attempt to continue their floating crap game, while his long-suffering (and I mean long) fiancée Adelaide attempts to finally marry the man today. A simultaneous story sees Sky Masterson’s way of life threatened as he falls in love, and gets his soul saved by Sarah Brown. With love and comedy on their side, this is a story with no shortage of riches.

 

There are two ways to experience Guys & Dolls – the immersive standing experience, or in more conventional seats, surrounding the action on all four sides. I can’t resist being part of the action (even if I did regret it slightly, after getting soaked in Havana) so joined in with the immersive part. I made a handy guide with the help of some current and former cast members last year, which you can read here. All I’ll say is if you are able to stand for three hours, this is a theatrical experience like no other.



The unique staging of this production is Guys & Dolls is exhausting in its detail and precision. Bunny Christie’s design is like nothing you will have seen before, fully immersing you in the Guys & Dolls world, long before the show has started. Neon lights, simple yet effective props and an ever-changing stage that transports you from New York to Havana and back again shows a great deal of creativity, excitement and fun in its execution. Christie’s costumes with Deborah Andrews are breath-taking in their design, particularly in every show stopping number worn by Adelaide. Paule Constable’s lighting ensures the complex and creative design is matched at every turn, always looking immaculate and beautiful to leave a gorgeous aesthetic.

 

It is Nicholas Hytner’s direction that truly wows with this production, taking the limitations of what can be achieved in theatre and turning it on its head to create something that takes all the best elements of immersive theatre while never being gimmicky. The baffling complexity of the ever-changing stage with platforms rising and disappearing constantly takes extreme precision, not just from him but all the hard-working stage crew who not only ensure the safety and constant moving of the standing audience throughout, but do it in character (if you wear a sequinned shirt like a certain reviewer, you may find ”MOVE, SPARKLES” yelled at you). Hytner’s direction wows at every turn with his faultless understanding of how to best tell the story with this ambitious and daring staging brilliantly breathing new life into Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book.



The direction and exceptional staging is brought to stratospherically new levels of perfection thanks to Arlene Phillips and James Cousins incredible choreography. Equally complex and considered in its use of the always adapting space, each sequence lands with a bang, particularly the ingeniously staged standout moment ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat’. I thought I knew what to expect with this production of Guys & Dolls having been twice before, but this second year was full of surprises with differences in staging keeping it fresh and exciting. Different staging of the brilliant Havana sequence with apparently even more water now, new moments with unsuspecting audience members on stage (no spoilers from me) joined the existing flawless sequences that fill this production. The final pièce de résistance here is in its unique finale which sees the stage come down completely leaving a party with cast and audience united. If you didn’t have a smile on your face before this point, this guarantees you’ll be leaving with one – just get practicing your best dance moves for your time in the spotlight.

 

As Guys & Dolls begins its second year at the Bridge Theatre, a new cast has joined the ranks along with a few familiar faces continuing on. Having filled in for the role for a brief stint last year, Owain Arthur returns full-time in the role of Nathan Detroit with his fantastically cheeky portrayal always exhilarating to watch and never short of a laugh or two. Expertly leading the ship (well, boat), the show is in safe hands with his note-perfect characterisation

 


Following in the footsteps of previous cast member and current Celebrity Big Brother housemate Marisha Wallace are some big shoes to fill but Timmika Ramsay does this with ease and class in her awe-inspiring and standout turn as Miss Adelaide. In a performance that isn’t a million miles away from her predecessor, she manages to put her own spin on the role, bringing a lot of flair and some phenomenal choices that never miss. A masterclass performance, whenever Timmika was on stage, she ensured all eyes were on her – and rightly so. Frank Loesser’s songs have become timeless, and Timmika gets some of the best with powerhouse performances of ‘A Bushel and a Peck’, ‘Adelaide’s Lament’ and the rousing highlight that is act two opener ‘Take Back Your Mink’.

 

Celinde Schoenmaker continues in the role as Sarah Brown, having been with the show since its first preview. Far more in tune with the role now, she has developed an affinity to the character which allows her to delve further in to the nuances of it and have a lot more fun in the role. Her vocals remain every bit as spectacular as her acting ability, with performances of ‘If I Were A Bell’ and her duet with Adelaide ‘Marry The Man Today’ highlights. Her camaraderie with new recruit George Ioannides as Sky Masterson creates a winning double act, with George a delight as the loveable rogue.

 


Jonathan Andrew Hume’s delivers his performance as Nicely-Nicely Johnson… well, nicely-nicely I suppose. A fantastic performer in his own right, the constant smile on his face leaves a joyful portrayal which culminates in a rousing and vocally blessed rendition of ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat’ with no amount of encores sufficient enough for that flawless theatrical sequence. A consistently stunning cast of ensemble and named roles ensure the show constantly shines no matter if one cast member or the full cast are present. Other highlights include Cameron Johnson in his memorable turn as Big Jule and Niall Buggy’s loveable turn as Arvide Abernathy.

 

Guys & Dolls has wowed everyone who experiences this bold and exciting new production since its first performance last year. It’s no secret how much I loved the show last year and really didn’t think I could love it more. However, this is a show that gets better every time you see it as you experience more things and become more immersed into the world. The new cast are every bit as amazing as the first, delivering something new that maintains the genius level this production achieves. They may have taken a roll of the dice with this ambitious risk but luck was clearly on their side as Guys & Dolls continues to win. Just like ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat’, this is one show that can never have enough encores.



Guys & Dolls is currently booking at Bridge Theatre unti 21st August 2024. Tickets from www.bridgetheatre.co.uk

 

Photos by Manuel Harlan

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