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Guys and Dolls

The Phoenix Theatre, London  

There is something innately satisfying about sitting down in an auditorium to see a play or a show that you know well, and that you know works.

Rather than the anticipation of how the plot will unfold, or what the musical numbers will be, there’s always a delight in seeing how it’s been cast, or choreographed: Rather than having to worry about what’s on offer you can sit back and just enjoy. And enjoy I did.

This production of Guys and Dolls first saw the light of day a couple of winters back in Chichester, transferring to the Savoy Theatre last December where it filled the spot left by Imelda Staunton’s Gypsy. It’s now move to The Phoenix to make way for Funny Girl at The Savoy. Different casts have come and gone, and this production is also currently on tour around the UK, however a couple of the Chichester line-up survive – Siubhan Harrison as Sarah Brown and Gavin Spokes as Nicely-Nicely Johnson being notable carry-overs. Though the venerable previous casts must have been more than up to the job, I can’t help feeling that the current principles are just about as definitive as you’re going to get.

Of the two male leads one is cast for comedy, the other for love. Richard Kind as Nathan Detroit has that sort of a face that you see and just can’t help laughing at. And I mean that in the most positive of senses. He’s like a badly-suited Tommy Cooper with huge mouth and body of equally sizeable and comic proportions.

The male love interest, who could hardly be more different, is Oliver Tompsett as Sky Masterson, the gambling womaniser at whose feet women just seem to fall. This really is how the two men need to be, not the Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando of the 1955 film, but two different views of mankind. The prevaricating but lovable rogue who won’t commit, and the womanising chancer who vows never to fall in love. In a way this is the most Shakespearean of musicals as, in spite of the way they both treat their women, they both end up in what we, as an audience, know will be happy married life.

And what a pair of women they wrong. Again, Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling’s masterful book creates women who are once well-rounded, and yet both show different facets of womankind.

As the put-upon Miss Adelaide, unable to control the man – Nathan Detroit – she loves and ultimately wishes to marry Samantha Spiro is every bit the gauche Noo Yoik showgirl: wanting so much to be able to make real the fantasy world she inhabits, where she’s part of a ‘normal’ and classier world than the one she lives in day to day.

At the other extreme is Siubhan Harrison as the Salvation Army Missionary Sarah Brown, so sure of herself, and so tightly screwed up that with the application of alcohol and a good-looking man – Sky Masterson – there’s only one way she could possibly go.

As I’ve said, I think this is as near perfect a cast as you’ll get, and that applies to the other parts too, with perhaps none more deserving of mention than Gavin Spokes as Nicely-Nicely Johnson whose warmth and genuine love of being centre stage for the finest eleven o’clock in the cannon, ‘Sit Down you’re Rocking The Boat’ left my face aching from the smile that was across it from the moment we started the scene where it appears.

All in all I really haven’t had such a magnificently fulfilling night in the theatre in years. This is the definitive Guys and Dolls.

  • Book: Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
  • Music & Lyrics: Frank Loesser
  • Director: Gordon Greenberg
  • Choreographer: Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright
  • Starring: Samantha Spiro, Richard Kind, Oliver Tompsett, Siubhan Harrison, Gavin Spokes, and full supporting cast.
  • The Phoenix Theatre, London  
  • 14th April 2016 onwards
  • Review by Richard Voyce
  • 14 April 2016

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

When he’s not out toiling to pay the mortgage Richard is a fan of all things musical theatre, is a member of Mercury Musical Developments, and has been an active contributor to the Book, Music, and Lyrics Workshop Programme here in London since its inception.

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