Guys & Dolls | Bridge Theatre | Review

Guys & Dolls

Bridge Theatre

Booking until February 2024

Tickets here

This week I travelled into London to catch the Bridge Theatre’s production of ‘Guys and Dolls’ for the second time. With so many productions in London and the South East, it is rare I merit going to see something twice.  For Guys and Dolls, I was delighted to make an exception. The first time blew me away and now I knew what to expect, I wanted to see whether the production really was as good as I remembered.

Based on stories written by Damon Runyon about gangsters and gamblers in Brooklyn, the first production of Guys and Dolls opened on Broadway in 1950. In this production, the book (Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows) and songs (by Frank Loesser) have remained faithful to the original however it has been given a refreshing facelift by director Nicholas Hytner and designer Bunny Christie. Now, you’d be hard pressed to find a more innovative revival.

The Bridge Theatre is set in the round with half the audience seated 360° around the stage. The other half are ‘standing’ tickets where the audience are granted an immersive experience up close and personal with the cast. Elements of the stage constantly raise and lower themselves from the ground, creating an everchanging landscape for the actors to play out their story. The audience who’ve bought standing tickets are mingling with the actors one minute and then ushered aside by ‘NY cops’ the next so that the next piece of staging can emerge from the ground.

If the unique staging wasn’t enough, the cast are sublime, Marisha Wallace once again proves she is a musical theatre sensation playing Miss Adalaide the hot box showgirl patiently waiting for Nathan Detroit, her fiancé of 14 years, to marry her. Her performance is legendary as she has the audience in the palm of her hand every time she’s onstage. Her fiancé played by Owain Arthur is devoted to Adalaide, but more devoted to his floating crap game and keeping out of trouble. Arthur is new to the well-tuned cast yet looks completely at home. Celinde Schoemaker plays Sarah Brown, a missionary at the Save a Soul Mission struggling to convert the New York sinners. She gains help from gambler Sky Masterson (Andrew Richardson) not realising he initially only helps her to win a bet. Her beautiful soprano voice blends well with his dreamy vocals and their chemistry (yeah chemistry) makes them an ideal romantic couple. That being said, Sarah’s drunk scene (If I were a bell) is easily one of the highlights of the show.

The rest of the cast also rise to the challenge of this immersive production, with the audience merely inches away, there is a lot of eye contact, nuance, and intimacy. To be so close to this stellar cast as they are performing is a privilege. The cast interact with the audience even whilst dancing (choreography by Arlene Philips & James Cousins), and the audience are encouraged to work as well, getting involved by collecting leaflets, waving streamers and dancing, I high fived one of my favourite characters Nicely-Nicely Johnson played by Cedric Neal who later goes on to bring the house down in one of the shows more famous numbers ‘Sit down, you’re rocking the boat’.  Joyous.

There is extra entertainment before and after the show and during the interval too. Don’t miss it.

Having stood throughout two performances, I feel I ought to gain a different overall perspective of Guys and Dolls by seeing it from a seat, but I know that if…scratch that…*when* I see it again, I shall be standing once more. This is a unique production that hopefully will help change the way that we experience theatre forever. Easily the best musical I have seen this year.


Reviewer: Sammi O’Neill

Photo: Manuel Harlen