Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Snowflakes in hell... gambling in sewers... musical has it all!

Snowflakes in hell... gambling in sewers... musical has it all!

Guys and Dolls | Mill at Sonning | Friday, November 23

A GEM of a show — funny, witty, lively, energetic and feelgood for the dark days of winter. The West End comes to a little island in the Thames with all the vitality that brings.

Guys and Dolls is a none-too-serious look through song and dance at the high-rolling, low-living denizens of Fifties New York.

Those gamblers, drinkers, womanisers and shady types are at the Mill for the next three months in what has become the Sonning Eye venue’s annual Christmas and winter musical.

Grubby underbelly of New York it may be, but this musical is all about glitzy showbusiness.

The singing of some memorable songs from composer Frank Loesser is committed and accomplished, the dancing — especially the modern ballet sequences — is dynamic and risky, and the acting often hilarious.

The cast is full of experienced West End performers with a special nod to the four leads — Victoria Serra as Sarah, Natalie Hope as Adelaide, Richard Carson as Sky Masterson and Stephane Anelli as Nathan Detroit.

The whole thing is based in human frailty and makes a virtue of it. The plot is unlikely — implausible even — but that hardly matters.

Nathan makes a living running illegal dice games and attracts high-betting gamblers to take part. The Salvation Army, led by Sergeant Sarah, tries to lead them from the path of oblivion.

What chance does she stand? Snowflakes in hell come to mind, but it’s a wonderful singing, dancing wisecracking journey along the way.

Guys and Dolls predates that other great musical about low-life New York, West Side Story, by eight years and is a very different animal.

This is light entertainment at its height with the menace stripped out and the villains portrayed as cartoonish characters. That’s fine — we can all laugh without ever feeling threatened. Director and choreographer Joseph Pitcher and set designer Diego Pitarch have created just the right kind of atmosphere for this piece to flourish — even down to playing a craps game in a sewer to avoid the cops.

And another mention for the dancing — it’s a tribute to their skill that they can give such big and athletic performances on a stage which is probably a third of the size they might normally expect.

But that also has its advantages because the audience is never more than a few feet from the action at the Mill and the sense of being at one with the show is very strong.

A top show all round in a little village by the Thames. Who’d have thought it!

Booking until Saturday, February 23.

Mike Rowbottom

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