Thursday, 10 March 2016

Review: Guys and Dolls - Savoy Theatre

I love Guys and Dolls a lot. It’s probably one of my favourite classic musicals, and I know the show inside out, but having only ever seen amateur productions, I was very excited to see how a West End revival scrubbed up.

The last show I’d seen at the Savoy Theatre was Gypsy, another transfer from Chichester Festival Theatre. The Savoy is a great venue for shows such as Gypsy and Guys and Dolls, as in larger theatres it’s easy to feel detached from the action on stage as the cast fight to fill the space with the show-stopping numbers, but the Savoy has a much more intimate feel, which draws the audience into the intricacies of the script and staging, as well as dazzling with the big ensemble numbers. 
This revival starts off with a bang, illuminating the showy backdrop made up of billboard pieces, and launching straight into the show’s infectious score. Guys and Dolls is a fast-paced musical, which consists of a lot of dialogue crammed full of humorous comments and tongue-in-cheek jokes, and this production certainly boasts impressive fluidity and seamless transitions from scene to scene. Due to the sheer volume of witty remarks in the script, there is always a danger of some getting lost in the speed of the dialogue, but something that this production does really well is to create subtle pauses or emphases, in a way that directs your attention to certain comments even when the action on stage is very busy, without thrusting the jokes out into the audience in pantomime fashion.

The choreography, its execution and the energy of the ensemble throughout is a big part of what makes this such a powerful production. The dancing isn't there just to enhance the big numbers and work as an extra aesthetic, it acts as another form of narrative in itself, one that thrives on clever details and playful quirks. I would have willingly watched dance-heavy scenes such as Havana and the underground crap game for the whole three hours.

What really cements this revival of Guys and Dolls as a success is the strength of the cast in the principal roles. Gavin Spokes and Ian Hughes offer a stellar Nicely Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet, with the pair complimenting one another really well, and finding the perfect balance with their comic exchanges, in order to generate laughs without being clownish. Spoke's performance in Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat earns its own special mention, his incredible vocals raising the bar for all future productions. 

After seeing many a favourable review, I had been hoping to witness Jamie Parker's take on the elusive Sky Masterson, but instead it was Jonathan Stewart who filled these shoes on Saturday night, and I was consistently impressed by his performance. Stewart's slick vocals are the perfect fit, and he portrays a much more subtly confident version of Sky Masterson than the usual overly cocky mould, creating a mysteriously intriguing character.

This more subdued but no less self-assured or daring interpretation of Sky Masterson really effectively bounced off Siubhan Harrison's Sarah Brown. Whilst Harrison doesn't have the typically pure and clear soprano vocals that usually epitomise Sarah, her rawer voice gives the character an edge that suggests her episode in Havana is more of a release in the case of freedom, rather than unprecedented drunken behaviour. This edge also comes out in her ability to find humour in some of Sky's earlier comments and actions, and those of the other 'sinners', breaking away from the character's usual cold and uptight existence.

David Haig plays a solid and unfalteringly convincing Nathan Detroit, although he could afford to draw out the moments in which his composure crumbles under the pressure of those such as Big Jule and, of course, Adelaide.

Sophie Thompson’s portrayal of Adelaide is hilariously melodramatic, dominating the stage on every entrance. She’s fascinating to watch, and skilfully plays up to all our preconceptions of Adelaide, whilst also adding her own twists and emphases. Although they provide many an amusing moment, I do think that her vocal acrobatics are a little overdone at times, with her swooping from squeaky tones to a chesty shout, usually to chastise Nathan. 

This revival of Guys and Dolls was everything I had hoped for and more, and I'm already very tempted to see it again as it transfers to the Phoenix Theatre with new leads. 

Have you seen Guys and Dolls? Let me know in the comments what you've loved at the theatre recently!


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