Review: Guys and Dolls, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, until April 16.

Review: Guys and Dolls, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, until April 16.

If anyone needed to prove why we should be investing in theatre at a time of economic stringency then any doubters should be directed to the New Wolsey’s dazzling tenth anniversary production of Guys and Dolls.

It’s a gloriously atmospheric show, packed from start to finish with glamour, colour and great music. It continues to work five decades after it was written because of its motley collection of endearingly fallible characters and the riot of laughs they produce. Also, did I mention it’s got a fantastic collection of infectious songs? By the show’s end when Gavin Spokes as the sweet natured Nicely Nicely Johnson is imploring folk, during the encore, to “sit down you’re rockin the boat” several members of the audience are up on their feet, dancing away, taking no notice whatsoever.

It’s billed as a musical fable of Broadway and that’s exactly what it is. Set in post-war New York, it’s tale of small-time street hustlers trying to set up their weekly craps game right under the noses of the increasingly weary local police force.

As the motley collection of motley gamblers gather from all over the city, Mr Fix-It Nathan Detroit is running out of places to stage his illegal game. Not only that his long-term fiance Miss Adelaide has decided that 14 years is long enough to be engaged and Nathan must now make good on his promise.

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It’s a show about people, about the way that male/female relationships differ from male friendships and the tensions that result when demands clash. It’s also about male honour and the importance of keeping your word. Themes that can be worthy and heavyweight but are treated with a wonderfully light touch by the show’s authors Damon Runyon, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and by New Wolsey director Peter Rowe.

The show is a real ensemble showcase. No-one is the star. There are four leads Ben Fox and Rosie Jenkins as Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide and Laura Pitt-Pulford and Robbie Scotcher as Sarah Brown and Sky Masterson. All have amazing stage presence, wonderful comic timing and great singing voices.

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Surrounding them are a galaxy of lovingly created supporting roles which at times threaten to steal the limelight away from the main characters. In the two-and-a-half-hour show you swiftly come to know and love this collection of irascible reprobates.

Peter Rowe keeps the production zinging along. He has invented several bits of clever-but-fun business to mask costume changes and to celebrate the fact that this is an actor/musician show. With 22 actor/musicians filling the stage, the show has a rich, full sound sweeping over the footlights and just envelopes the audience. The stand-out number has to be the extended Havana bar scene with Sarah and Sky while Rosie has a lot of fun with her two ‘Hot Box’ cabaret numbers.

The audience left the theatre with huge smiles on their faces suggesting this was the perfect way to forget the gloom and doom on the nightly news.

What a hugely enjoyable way to mark the theatre’s tenth birthday.

Andrew Clarke

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