first night

Guys and Dolls

Joe Skelton sees what the Guys and Dolls of DULOG have to offer for this year's Gala show


The DULOG Gala show is always one of the theatrical highlights of the year - there's a lot of talent, a whopping budget and a lot of expectation. Director Ellie Gauge has produced a dazzling and slick show which, when it reaches full power, is fabulous.

Vocally, the play got off to a strong start. The three part harmonies of 'Fugue for Tinhorns' were executed with finesse and competence. Simon Lynch as the nervous and polite 'Nicely Nicely' Johnson and Maxwell Spence as the gravelly voiced Benny Southstreet shone from the off. Spence's voice, superbly comic but not over the top, was something you might attribute to a huge gangster who has served more time than a clock - it humorously contrasted with Spence's small figure. The duo was fantastic. They provided the comic impetus of the play, well realised characters, accents tuned to the perfect point of parody, and stunning vocal talent to boot. Lynch in particular was one of the outstanding vocalists of the cast. He rode the force of the chorus in 'Sit down you're rocking the Boat' like a wave, giving this hit song the power it needed. Despite microphone problems, which unfortunately hampered a lot of the show, Lynch brought the house down.

Callum Kenny, the slick small time gambler Nathan Detroit, gave a strong performance. Kenny was at home vocally and physically; he's a silky crooner and a smooth mover. The wonderfully expressive Sophie McQuillan plays Adelaide, Detroit’s fiancée of fourteen years who is still hanging on to the promise of marriage. The animation of McQuillan's face was captivating and fitted the showy character of a glitzy Nightclub performer. Her voice was powerful and all the more so for its loyalty to the character.  

Unfortunately some of the early dialogue scenes fell a little flat. However, Michael Forde (Sky Masterson) captured our attention as soon as he swaggered on stage. Masterson is a highflying gambler with mythic good luck, Forde played the part with enough charisma to feed the appetites of the whole audience and have leftovers. Forde's characterisation is always a joy to watch.  His suavity bounced well of the prim, proper and pious Sarah Brown played adeptly by Lucy Rowlanes.

Sky manages to melt Sarah's icy reserve and takes her with him to Havana, Cuba where the temperature of the whole show rose. The orchestra plunged us into an Afro-Cuban extravaganza of raucous trumpets and frantic percussion. This number ('Havana') invigorated the whole show and was expertly directed by Rob Green. The dancers drew vitality from the music; Choreographer Susie Hudson's threw some extra chillies into this Salsa and the Gala got so into the groove that I felt like jumping on stage and joining in.

The Gala stage is vast and unforgiving - it looked best when crammed with the hustle and bustle of the New York sidewalk. The space on stage was successfully chopped up by some fabulously well designed sets which slid in from the wings, taking us from Broadway to the inside of the Missionary HQ. We were even taken into a colossal sewer tunnel under the streets of NYC, a feat that Producers Jack Moreton and Henry Winlow should be proud of. Indeed, the space was so well closed off for the majority of the play that I wondered why it wasn't at the beginning; in the first few scenes the energy seemed to leak out unimpressively into the expansive atmosphere. The chorus exploded onto the stage like a firework display - but then they would disappear and we would be left with one abandoned actor on stage, meekly fizzing like a lone firecracker. This was not an issue for long and generally Gauge managed the space well. Staging aside, some of the acting was still slightly wanting in conviction at times and the dialogue scenes had the potential to deflate, however, the musical numbers and the buoyancy of the chorus would never fail to pump the show back up.

The chorus were marvellous. The dances were rehearsed meticulously and performed with vivacity. Special mention must be made to Rebecca Meltzer, Hannah Azonye, Krystina Warrington and Ellis-anne Dunmall for their outstanding fluidity and competence in this area. The boy's chorus were also polished, especially in the 'crapshooters ballet'. It may be worth pointing out, that 'crapshooting' is a kind of dice game - despite this dance taking place in a sewer, it was far from crap and has set a high bench mark for the male chorus of future DULOG shows.

What else could round off the night? None other than the technical wizard and President of DST Dan Gosselin (Arvide) singing a number with both style and ease.

Overall, the show was executed with exuberance. Guys and Dolls is a fast paced, engaging script with a brilliant score -and DULOG do it masterfully. 

22 January 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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