Theatre in Wales

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Dese Are de Guys

At Theatr Clwyd

Guys & Dolls- Theatr Clwyd Cymru/ New Wolsey Theatre/ Salisbury Playhouse , Anthony Hopkins Theatre, Theatr Clwyd Cymru , February 17, 2011
At Theatr Clwyd by Guys & Dolls- Theatr Clwyd Cymru/ New Wolsey Theatre/ Salisbury Playhouse “Peopled with brutalised half-wits…an interminable, an overwhelming, and in the end intolerable bore.” That was Sir Harold Hobson the first time “Guys and Dolls” played in Britain. That rush to judgement shows that even the best of writers, the sole first champion of Pinter, can still drop the occasional critical clanger. Frank Loesser is one of the top four lyricists of the last century. From the first song’s triple rhyme of “Paul Revere/ Bum steer/ sincere” on the language of “Guys and Dolls” glitters.

“Are dese de guys?” is the opening line in director Peter Rowe’s production. A group of hoods emerge from the mist ominously carrying musical instruments. They lay them down, open them and reveal…trumpets and trombones. Musical director Greg Palmer has followed a trick from the Watermill Theatre. The cast are the band. It is not just the versatility that impresses but the sheer industry of it. Sophie Byrne, Georgina Field, Rosie Jenkins and Claire McGarahan one moment are sultry, thigh-revealing dancers in a Havana nightclub. A few minutes later in the side-stage back light they have changed into loose trousers, waistcoats and trilbys and are blowing on clarinets.

Nick Lashbrook is mean cop Brannigan with his peaked cap pulled low over his brow and his truncheon swinging menacingly. But he can punch out just as mean and moody a riff on his trumpet. Other musical highlights are the great trombone, played by Christopher Fry. In the half-light an unidentifiable player produces lovely liquidy tones from his guitar. Susannah Van Den Berg’s General Cartwright has a soprano that vaults thrillingly over the combined voices of the rest of the cast’s singing in unison.

A newspaper article this month lamented soulless musicals performed by leads in roles beyond them. “Guys and Dolls” has leads but no stars; at least it has stars but there are twenty-two of them. Robbie Scotcher’s Sky Masterson is a lean, poised presence, a natural superior to the loose-limbed Broadway low-lifers around him. Only he has the muscle to put East Cicero’s finest Paul Kissaun’s Big Jule where he belongs. When he comes to “Luck be a Lady”, that great melody and lyric, he raises his glance upwards and his eyes narrow in a song that is half-defiance and half-prayer.
Always leave your audience on a high. The song closes and Peter Rowe plunges the stage into an instantaneous black-out.

Frank Loesser’s score has not a dull note to it. But any “Guys and Dolls” soars in three musical scenes. This Cuba swings and Laura Pitt-Pulford’s Sarah seizes the stage. In “If I were a bell I’d be ringing” she manages to be simultaneously inebriated (a little too much “local flavouring” called Bacardi), unleashedly sensuous and still enunciate every syllable. When there are lines like “If I were a salad I’d be splashing my dressing” they deserve it.

Gavin Spokes’ Nicely Nicely Johnson, in his tiny bow tie and his too small jacket buttoned across his stomach, sings “"Guys and Dolls" early on in duet with Anthony Hunt’s wonderful, elastic-jointed Benny Southstreet. But the show’s ultimate crowd-winner comes near the end. “Sit down, you’re rockin’ the boat” rocks, and the audience roars.

Damon Runyon is one of that handful of authors whose name has become an adjective to describe the world of their creation. True to form, the show has double-breasted suits cut so loose they could fit two. Loud pinstripes never came louder, pinnier or stripier. Cigars are the size of a forearm. Francesca Jaynes’ choroegraphy picks up on the loping leg movements and the shifty grimaces of this crowd of born grifters. Ben Fox’s Nathan Detroit has a sudden jerk in the neck when a tricky spot beckons. His eyebrows flick forty-five degrees upward when a new idea hits him.

“Guy and Dolls” is a big, mood-raising, cuts-defying recession-buster of a show. The first spoken scene could be sped up by a minute or so. Big Jule could be a shade scarier. Gavin Spokes gets to lead a short reprise after the applause. No musical has an encore that fits so well. “Sit down, sit down, sit down” he sings to an auditorium where half the audience is up on its feet.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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