Miriam Gibson

Review: Guys and Dolls, Bridge Theatre

“Immersive Guys & Dolls,” is a concept nobody asked for- but Nick Hytner’s slick, inventive and gigantically fun production elevates an already terrific musical. It’s London’s best night out.

Jonathan Andrew Hume in Guys & Dolls at the Bridge TheatreJonathan Andrew Hume in Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre

With the original Olivier-nominated cast recently departing from the Bridge Theatre, Celinde Schoenmaker and George Ioannides take over the roles of uptight Sarah Brown and rakish Sky Masterson. On paper, Sarah is a pretty one-note character, but Schoenmaker makes her believable, and her dilemmas engaging. Her rendition of If I Were A Bell is both funny and beautifully sung. Ioannides shines in Luck Be A Lady, and during the big dance number during Sky and Sarah’s trip to Cuba.

Meanwhile, Timmika Ramsay and Owain Arthur play eternally-engaged couple Miss Adelaide and Nathan Detroit. Hytner’s production flips the traditional depiction of Adelaide and Nathan, making her the savvy half and him the endearingly ditzy one. It’s one of a few modern elements Hytner sneaks in, subtly and effectively updating this classic musical. Adelaide’s nightclub songs, A Bushel and a Peck and Take Back Your Mink, are staged in a more risqué way than most versions of the show, which Ramsay has a ball with.

Hytner’s staging also boots out the stereotype that immersive theatre is pretentious and complicated. In Guys & Dolls, the immersion is pure party. Sections of the stage elevates from the ground and, if you’ve got standing tickets, you’ll be marshalled around them by a charming, confident and very capable team of stewards/NYC police officers. It takes some getting used to at first (hold on to members of your group, or you risk getting separated for a while), but by a few songs in you’ll be completely won over. It’s fluid, controlled chaos which encourages the audience to loosen up, laugh harder and holler louder (though if two and a half hours standing sounds bit much though, even the back-row seats at the Bridge Theatre offer a good view, and you’ll still be swept along by the party spirit).

Frank Loesser’s score is stuffed with top tunes, all brilliantly performed in this production. The Cuba section is a flurry of colour and movement, while in Marry The Man Today Ramsay and Schoenmaker portray a genuine camaraderie between Adelaide and Sarah, amongst the shot-slamming humour of the song. The musical’s biggest showstopper, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat, is given the spectacular staging it deserves, exuberantly performed by Jonathan Andrew Hume. I won’t spoil the lovely bit of fourth-wall-breaking around the song’s encores, but I can tell you that it whips the audience into an absolute frenzy.

Hytner expertly maintains the spirit of Guys & Dolls, while finding new angles and boldly pulling off the immersive element. This production is a must for musical fanatics and theatre sceptics alike- I bet you $1000, or your soul, that all audiences will have a blast. Oh, and it ends with a dance party. Who could ask for more?