GUYS AND DOLLS - 16 JULY 2005, LONDON

The Donmar is renowned for it’s realistic productions and Guys and Dolls is no exception. Muted in colour, almost monochrome yet still manages to vividly depict the New York of yesteryear. A skyline of New York is lit in the background as the seedier area of the city is depicted. The Hot Box night club is not your high class joint but just on the better side of burlesque with the girls almost baring all to the customers which are usually the gamblers and low life of New York. The sewers, with the huge tunnels protruding form the side of the stage also disappear into the distance as the gamblers find their location for the Crap Game. Havana is cleverly brought on as throughout the introduction to the scene, as Sarah shows Sky all the ‘Mission’ haunts of Havana, the club is gradually set behind them as part of a choreographed sequence. A steamy, hot club is revealed where a chanteuse sings a song with hints of Follow the Fold as the tune. Dancers move closer and closer together creating a passionate atmosphere.

Ewan McGregor has a great charm as Sky as he moves into Sarah Browne’s safe world of the Salvation Army and turns it upside down. He sings the part well enough but it is essentially his charm and character which constantly come through. He has a good chemistry with Jenna Russell’s Sarah and he lets you see the real Sky beneath the gambler’s face. As the Havana sequence comes to an end and he and Sarah are finally dancing together they kiss and as Sarah moves away, in her more than merry state, his face shows that this man has been totally transformed by love which has taken him completely by surprise. Even after he has helped Sarah save her mission she blanks him as all the ‘sinners’ come to the mission he leaves a very desolate man.

Jenna Russell is a tough Sarah, independent and trying to desperately to be the model Mission girl and do what is right and proper. Her guard quickly comes down in Havana and the real Sarah that she has keep suppressed comes out. Jenna was very good bringing out all the sides of Sarah’s character. The Havana scene through to ‘If I were a bell’ was simply but effectively staged and acted. This was my favourite section of the show.

Jane Krakowski’s Miss Adelaide is just perfect, a lovely character who is completely likable and immediately gains your sympathy for her predicament with Nathan. She seems too nice to be the star of the Hot Box. She is slightly naive but ever loyal to Nathan. She has a great stage presence and you real like Adelaide with all her slightly airheadiness. She delivers an excellent Lament.

Douglas Hodge has got the edginess and constant anxiety of Nathan Detroit as he tries to juggle both the crap game location and keeping Adelaide sweet. He has a charm to him which makes his Nathan work with Jane’s Adelaide. Great support from Martin Ellis and Cory English as Nicely Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet and a lovely ‘More I cannot wish for’ by Niall Buggy as Arvide as he tells Sarah all he wants for her is to find love.

The dance sequences, especially the Havana sequence, are great to watch and almost exhausting. There is so much going on but it has a frenetic quality and partners are changed and swirled / thrown around increasing the passion level. The Crap shooters dance was well staged and energetically performed. Sit Down you’re rocking the boat was a combination of perfect timing and innovative staging as the benches formed the boat. With a constant change of gamblers and salvation army people, all enthusiastically joining in, the scene returns, on the very last note, to the mission once more as though nothing has happened.

These scenes contrasted nicely with Runyonland, where the stage was not cluttered with too much activity and the Fugue for Tinhorns with just Nicely, Benny and Rusty on stage with some of the hot box girls coming on and off occasionally. Again during Guys and Dolls number it was just Benny and Nicely with the occasional person coming on. It felt every much more in those numbers that they were talking to the audience in a slightly narrative style.

The two hot box dances were exactly right ins style and performance. The girls are teases and that is what the men are offered, something very suggestive but just stopping, and for ‘Take Back your Mink’ only just stopping becoming something else !

Everything about this works, the style and slightly darker staging and setting of the piece. This combined with excellent performances from the 4 leads and all the cast plus a great score makes it very hard not to really enjoy this show.

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