It’s Election Day. In what used to be known as the Socialist State Of South Yorkshire, an anxiety hangs over the city. An anxiety mixed with slight hope, but anxiety none the less. It’s the perfect time for some escapism.
For that is what Guys And Dolls is – perfect escapism. I’d go so far as to say it’s the most unashamed fun you can have inside a theatre this Christmas. There are moments that take your breath away, so perfect is Matt Flint’s choreography, and you’d defy anyone not to fall in love with Natalie Casey’s Miss Adelaide, almost painfully yearning for her man to commit but hiding it beneath a quickfire wit.
When you think about it though, maybe Guys And Dolls is closer to real life than is first obvious. It’s a tale of wannabe gangsters, liars and cheats, of broken promises, of keeping people hanging on through guarantees that have no hope of being fulfilled. The singing and dancing is far more impressive than at a Conservative Party Conference though.
Guys And Dolls is, in essence, a tale of two couples: Adelaide and Nathan Detroit, and Sky and Sarah. Nathan loves Adelaide but refuses to marry her, even after a 14 year engagement. Sky, an inveterate gambler, takes up a bet that he can’t take the pious, conservative Sarah on a date in Havana. It’s no spoiler to say that Sky ends up falling in love with Sarah, but there’s a lot of fun in watching how it all plays out.
Casey makes for a marvellous Adelaide, with her rendition of Adelaide’s Lament a particular highlight of comic pathos. She also excels in an extraordinary Marilyn Monroe-inspired ‘Take Back Your Mink’ – if you only know of Casey from her television roles in Hollyoaks and Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps, prepare to be surprised at the range she displays here.
Alex Young, so good on this stage earlier in the year in Standing On The Sky’s Edge, plays a very different character to her disaffected millennial in Richard Hawley and Chris Bush’s musical. Her Sarah begins as stuffy and reserved, but struggles to resist falling for Kadiff Kirwan’s smooth and charismatic Sky. Their duet of ‘I’ve Never Been In Love Before’ which brings the first act to a close, is a definite highlight.
Robert Hastie handles the musical set pieces with his customary aplomb – there’s an spectacular ensemble dance to Havana, while the excellent TJ Lloyd leads an astonishingly energetic, gospel-inspired ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat’, which provokes a round of applause that seems to go on forever. Kirwan also delivers a rocking ‘Luck Be A Lady’, while Martin Marquez, who plays Nathan, duets winningly with Casey on an irresistable Sue Me.
Janet Bird’s set perfectly recreates Prohibition-era New York City – Will Stuart’s accomplished band are housed within the huge steel girders that dominate the set, which the cast clamber up and down on, while steam constantly rises from manhole covers dotted around the stage. There’s also inventive use of a revolving stage which enables set changes to happen effortlessly. A word too for Howard Hudson’s lighting which gives a moonlit glow over the stage which proves to be impossibly atmospheric.
It’s a show that stands up with the best of Sheffield Theatre’s Christmas musicals – and, over the past decade, their track record is almost flawless. Hastie has taken the mantle that Daniel Evans passed down, and while there may not be too many risks taken with Guys And Dolls source material, the whole point of a Christmas musical is to be a crowd pleaser: and this is the slickest, most professional of crowd-pleasers.
As the lights go up, the illumination of phones fills the auditorium. Exit polls are checked, and you can almost feel a cloud of despair float over the Crucible. Expressions change from the glee of the standing ovation to sadness and disappointment. As I leave the Crucible, I walk past a distraught young couple – he’s hugging her as she sobs into his chest. It all feels a long way from the hustle and bustle of the recreated New York just behind us. And all I want to do is escape back there again.
Guys and Dolls runs at Sheffield Theatres until 18th January 2020. More info here.