Review: GUYS & DOLLS, Bridge Theatre

Still rockin' the boat with a production of pure joy

By: Mar. 12, 2024
Guys & Dolls - Standing/Immersive Show Information
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Review: GUYS & DOLLS, Bridge Theatre
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Guys & Dolls - Standing/ImmersiveThe challenge of updating theatrical classics has led to some truly stunning theatre, such as the sell-out Cabaret and last year’s darkly stark OKLAHOMA! Frank Loesser’s 1950 musical comedy about sin and romantic salvation during the height of Prohibition was ripe for an update and Nicholas Hytner’s immersive production of Guys & Dolls has been thrilling critics and audiences alike since it opened last year.

One of the musical’s strengths is that the story is as compelling as the music. Full of wise guys, wisecracks and slick-tongued asides, con-man Nathan Detroit has to find new home for his illegal crap game. He bets high-rolling gambler Sky Masterson that he can’t take the “doll” of his choosing on a date to Havana. Sky thinks he’s been duped when Nathan chooses uptight Evangelist Sarah Brown, but his efforts to woo Sarah are so successful that he falls in love with her himself! 

With radical rearrangement of the Bridge’s auditorium; Bunny Christie’s endlessly inventive design incorporates a promenading audience who are moved around in the heart of the action and a fabulously adaptable stage with various platforms rising up and slipping down to reveal the dark corners, bars and clubs of New York City. The incredible orchestra performs from a raised cubicle with theatrical lightbulbs around it.

Guys & Dolls - Standing/Immersive

Being part of the immersive standing area is to be subject to (necessarily) tightly controlled stage management. The glitz of the show is not in question, but there is inevitable disruption to your sight lines and concentration. However, there’s no doubt you will have a great time if you throw yourself into the experience. For those sitting down, it is clear that Hytner has carefully thought through how to convey the whole story to every side of the auditorium.

After a year, this show continues to surprise and delight and the new cast has some very hard acts to follow. Now appearing in Celebrity Big Brother, Marisha Wallace was truly sensational as showgirl Miss Adelaide, but Timmika Ramsay (a standout in the Lyric Hammersmith's recent Cinderella) also brings real diva energy to the character. Engaged to Nathan for fourteen very long years, Ramsay conveys real love for her man, rather than ditzily tolerating his stupidity and has great fun while doing so. Her vocals become more powerful as the show progresses and by the time we get to the Act II opener of “Take Back Your Mink”, she almost takes the roof off the building.

Owain Arthur joined as Nathan Detroit back in July last year before Daniel Mays returned to the role in October. Arthur is now back collaborating with director Hytner, having previously performed in his One Man, Two Guvnors and The National Theatre’s The History Boys. A very funny Arthur is not as careworn as Mays, but is suitably shambolic, overly enthusiastic and incredibly likeable.

George Ioannides is a very debonair Sky Masterson. Ioannides, who took on the role after being in the ensemble of the show since its opening, is utterly suave and as smooth as silk in both his delivery and movements. The superb Celinde Schoenmaker remains in her role as icy missionary Sarah Brown, melting the crowd with her beautiful rendition of “If I Were A Bell”. Her lovely duet with Ioannides of “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” brims with burgeoning romance.

Taking over from newly Olivier-Award-nominated Cedric Neal, Jonathan Andrew Hume is also excellent as gangster Nicely-Nicely Johnson, injecting energy and so much fun into his big showstopper “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat”.

Arlene Phillips and James Cousins’ choreography remains astonishingly tight, particularly when performed in such narrow margins. Miss Adelaide’s Hot Box dancers are sexy, slick and bristle with energy and vigour. A Havana gay club dance floor, where Sky and Sarah become embroiled in a fight, is a piece of tightly organised chaos. Frustratingly, the brief and fascinating hint here that Sky might be interested in someone other than a “doll” is never explored further.

This immersive version of Guys & Dolls could not be less of a gimmick. Clever, super slick, full of heart and incredibly fun, this revival will run and run.

Read our interview with George Ioannides on playing Sky Masterson here and read our interview with Owain Arthur on joining as Nathan Detroit here!

Guys & Dolls is booking at the Bridge Theatre until 31 August

Photo credits: Manuel Harlan 




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