Guys & Dolls – The Mill at Sonning

Music/Lyrics: Frank Loesser

Book: Jo Swerling & Abe Burrows

Director: Joseph Pitcher

Reviewer: Christie-Luke Jones

Guys & Dolls is a cheeky, energetic romp through 1950s Manhattan – where gamblers, dime-store crooks, perky nightclub singers, and despairing missionaries criss-cross under the bright lights of Broadway. Amiable nogoodnik Nathan Detroit (Stephane Anelli) runs himself ragged in search of a location for his latest illegal crap game, eventually making a $1000 wager with handsome gambling addict Sky Masterson (Richard Carson) in a desperate attempt to cover his chosen venue’s security deposit. What ensues is an uproarious journey through dingy side streets, testosterone-soaked nightclubs, and even a sewer.

What really shines through here is just how much fun the cast is having. The witty banter and sarcastic asides are faultlessly delivered, and the push and pull between the hapless Nathan and his long-suffering fiancée Adelaide (Natalie Hope) is particularly entertaining. Hope squeaks, squawks, sniffs, and sneezes with impeccable comedic timing, while Anelli nails the physicality of his character by skulking and squirming his way through Detroit’s increasingly calamitous web of deceit.

Equally beguiling is the pairing of Carson’s louche and charismatic Sky Masterson with prim and proper missionary Sarah (Victoria Serra). Serra perfectly balances uptight exasperation and naïve romanticism, purposefully marching around the stage like a pious android until the bassy tones of the smooth-talking Masterson tempt her away from her divine path.

When the musical numbers kick in, director Joseph Pitcher’s choreography excels. Backed by Charlie Ingles’ tight musical arrangement, Pitcher’s ensemble cast illuminates the space with a high-octane verve that once again showcases just how well the individual performers have gelled together as a unit.

A standout song is Havana – which explodes with chaotic sexual energy and deliciously over-the-top Latin dance moves. It also boasts a raucously entertaining turn from Serra, whose newly intoxicated missionary flings herself around the stage (ironically) like a woman possessed. It’s heart-pumping, hip-shaking musical theatre at its very best.

Equally entertaining are the tongue-in-cheek wiggle of A Bushel and a Peck, the genuinely hilarious Adelaide’s Lament (again fuelled by the vocal and physical acrobatics of the superb Natalie Hope), as well as the top-tapping earworm that is Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat. The latter is led by the entertaining, if somewhat understated, Oliver Jacobson as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, who adds a clumsy, child-like charm to the proceedings.

It’s not all plain sailing – the vocals on opening songs Runyonland and Fugue for Tinhorns are somewhat lost in the mix, and it’s not until the third number Follow the Fold that the cast finds the spark that thankfully defines the rest of the production. There are also a few instances where the comedic or dramatic impact of a hearty slap to the face are dampened somewhat by sloppy execution – a minor gripe but one that stands out in the company of otherwise airtight physical theatrics.

Runs until: 23 February | Image: Contributed

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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