It was a gamble that required the nerves and gumption of Sky Masterson – with covid cases still raging through Durham, could DULOG manage to put on a fully-staged production with a huge cast of people singing and dancing in close proximity? Lady Luck favours the brave, and before I say anything about the show, I must offer huge congratulations to the DULOG team for pulling this off, as the logistical challenges of keeping everyone safe during rehearsals and the production must have been immense.
From the panache with which the band delivered the opening chords, I knew that this was going to be an exhilarating evening. The band were slick and classy, and sustained super-charged energy levels right through the evening. The curtain rose on a detailed street-scene set, complete with neon lights and the show’s world of petty crime was presented in a series of lively choreographed vignettes.
The good choreography and excellent dancing continued throughout all the big set pieces. The crap game in the sewers ratcheted up the tension with each roll of the dice, with Daisy Hargreaves eeking out all the nastiness of Big Jule. The riotous Cuban dance meanwhile smoked with tropical heat from band and dancers alike and there were impressive high kicks from the Hot Box girls.
Led by Olly Stanton as Nathan Detroit, the chaotic gang of low-life gamblers sparked off each other with excellent comic timing – I particularly enjoyed Samuel Jones who was a cheeky Nicely-Nicely, and he held everyone captive in his big number ‘Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat’. Olly Stanton nicely brought out the vulnerable side of Nathan Detroit’s character, pushed around by everyone whilst kidding himself that he was in charge.
There were no weak links anywhere in the cast, with excellent performances in all the supporting roles and chorus, but I’d particularly like to single out Harry Allderidge for his sensitive and tender portrayal of Arvide Abernathy – ‘More I cannot wish you’ was a quietly moving moment.
Tom Cain and Lucie Fletcher simply shone in the central roles of Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown. To begin with, I thought Lucie Fletcher was a little too coquettish as Sarah, but in fact as the show went on, it made her character’s development more convincing – this was not a cut-out doll missionary but a flesh and blood woman who is figuring out what she wants. Her singing was excellent throughout, with effortless top notes and just a bit of vibrato adding colour. ‘I’ll know’ was warm and sincere, and ‘If I were a bell’ was gloriously exuberant as she flung off all her inhibitions.
I don’t know what took Sarah so long, because I’ll confess that I was utterly smitten with Tom Cain’s Sky Masterson from the moment he smouldered into her mission saying ‘Do you take sinners here’. Cain captured Sky Masterson’s irresistible combination of charm and charisma and the sense of him being a man who always gets what he wants and made his sudden discovery of love all the more touching – he delivered ‘I’ve never been in love before’ with a freshness and joy, urged on by the band really swinging it. And I couldn’t help but smile at how proud and boyish he looked in the final scene, his brand new Salvation Army jacket slightly too big for him, as if he hadn’t quite grown into it yet.
The biggest cheer of the evening though goes to Bella Jessop who gamely stepped into the role of Miss Adelaide with just a few hours notice. She pushed Nathan Detroit around as if she’d been doing it all her life, and spat out Adelaide’s pent-up anger and frustration with real fire, stamping and snarling around the stage, whilst also eliciting real empathy from us in her Lament. It was also lovely to see how much the rest of the cast were supporting her on stage, boosting her confidence as the evening went on – particularly the Hot Box dance troupe, who were presumably also having to adapt their routine to being one short. When Lucie Fletcher embraced her at the end of ‘Marry the man today’, there was definitely a sense that this was a big congratulatory hug – and well deserved.
I went home absolutely grinning and feeling on top of the world – this was a shot of much needed joy.
There are two further performances of ‘Guys and Dolls’ on Saturday 22 January. I suggest you try to get a ticket even if you have to gamble your soul for it.