Not just rocking the boat. To make fly. Tickets for Nicholas Hytner’s production of guys and dolls will be the most sought after of the season. This 1950 musical (music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows) has it all. The dialogues and lyrics take off from Damon Runyon’s short stories, crackling and hard-hitting. The plot – based on the collision and elision between the sharps and the salutists – is energetic, tender and artful. The musical numbers are non-stop lavish – in fact, such a roll of glory that traffic jam can threaten: “showstopping” isn’t always a recommendation when the show is due to go on.
This staging never ends. Fueled by design by Bunny Christie, musical supervision by Tom Brady and choreography by Arlene Phillips with James Cousins, it sways up and down and side to side, enveloping the audience without ever dimming the dazzle of the performance. In what is becoming a Bridge specialty, different scenes are staged on platforms that move around a standing audience of 420 people (there are 600 seated spectators). Paule Constable’s essential lighting and Christie’s design create a neonorama: scarlet caps and orange cursive, a luminous barber pole, a curved lime green arrow. The Hot Box Cabaret goes up and down; on the other side, Mindy’s delicatessen appears; steam rises from the manhole through which players slip into the sewers.
It’s immersive theater with a real point. It’s not just that you gain new thrills, see new jokes by being close to the action. It’s an all-out urban story: it must never freeze into pieces; it needs to be pushed around by the city and face the street. Here, the audience is an additional backdrop for the escape scenes. However, the actors are always distinct. Dishly so. The costumes, by Christie and Deborah Andrews, are a jazz of berets and homburgs, heavy checkered jackets and tinsel skirts that skim the buttocks, corsets trimmed with pink feathers.
And, oh, the thrill of choreography that’s exact, from the tipping of a beanie to the tip of a co-sponsor’s shoe; that cuts through small spaces without looking cramped, and has more sparkle than ruffles, more expression than attitude. And full of spicy innovations: the Havana dance sequence is performed by male couples: our hero is to be prized away from a guy in a tacky outfit; a dirty grind cabaret number is ingenious with carrots.
Marjorie Prime is set in a near future in which having an iPhone is a sign of seniority
It’s a night of beautiful sweeping, not dependent on the stars. Still, the trails are great. Daniel Mays brings a particular blend of deviousness and amiability to Nathan Detroit. Andrew Richardson has an ease as the cool Sky, seeming to bask in luck and song. As Miss Adelaide (probably the only heroine who has ever sung about the common cold), Marisha Wallace makes the stage quiver with joy, as she did in Young Vic’s Oklahoma! Embodying the right Sarah Brown, Celinde Schoenmaker flies, melts and comes undone spectacularly, button by button: never has the position of the missionary been so captivating. Music hotspots go beyond excitement and seduction. During Sky and Sarah’s love duets, their voices change to create a new mix of sounds, a new beginning. Marry the Man Today, skeptical but fond of Sarah and Adelaide, suggests this musical could also be called Dolls & Guys.
Something is happening on Nancy Carroll’s face that I’ve never seen before. It seems to melt, to lose its definition: to pass gradually but irrevocably from a skeptical balance to an anxious vagueness. almost worth a look Marjorie Premier just for that. Or for the way Anne Reid, playing Carroll’s relentless mother, fixes a broad smile on her features and lets you guess how much he expresses whatever she might be feeling.
Dominic Dromgoole’s sleek new production, which also has deft performances from Tony Jayawardena and Richard Fleeshman, does something gently probing of Jordan Harrison’s piece. Slightly against all odds. Set in the near future in which having an iPhone is a sign of being old, the plot revolves around the idea of creating avatars that, when fed real human memories, will be able to replicate the dead, providing comfort to the bereaved.
It was first staged in Los Angeles in 2014, and Harrison deserves plaudits for his prescience. The question of what counts as recognizable personal information is interesting: for example, thinking that the only perfume a woman needs is fabric softener. Interesting dilemmas about identity are raised: how much can you forget and be yourself? How many memories of someone else can you store without becoming that person? Yet, though enhanced by Jonathan Fensom’s clever design, in which blue skies transform into unfathomable constellations, the action intrigues rather than implies, unfolding deftly but mechanically. Skilled actors suggest another layer: how does an audience distinguish between human beings and robot impersonators?
The Flabbergast Theater company lives up to its name. They aim to make an audience tremble. The fast and slamming version of the troupe Macbeth’s Tragedy, directed and designed by founder Henry Maynard, is brought to life by witches, too often overlooked in contemporary productions. These strange sisters transform into other characters. Beating on huge drums, they set the pulse of the action.
In true magical style, figures and objects become grotesque, sometimes comically indistinct. Watching the action unfold is like watching an object take shape and disintegrate on a potter’s wheel. Everything on stage is the color of pale mud: a backdrop of brown tarpaulins, rough and flapping costumes, smeared faces. Direction of movement by Matej Majeka causes the actors to unfold slowly, as if walking through quicksand or gesticulating rigidly like creatures in a frieze. The Porter, who usually dreaded an unfunny interlude, is a modern clown: fluidly moving, squeaky-voiced, only occasionally bursting into recognizable words. He is the shadow of the earth, barely clothed. He could be poor Tom who got away King Lear.
First seen in Edinburgh last summer, the high can be more intense than explosive, and always more visual than verbal. The speeches are girdled, as if emerging from a restless unconscious: exclamatory, sometimes (I was at a preview) unclear, and not very varied in intensity, although the multitasker Maynard pronounces “tomorrow and tomorrow” with a resonant slowness, suggesting that time had truly begun to flow. creep. Yet the imaginative reworking is striking, especially in Adam Clifford’s musical arrangements, which blend Japanese taiko and English folksong. The evening ends with a memorable chorus of the Three Ravens. These witches can turn into anything.
Star ratings (out of five)
guys and dolls ★★★★★
Marjorie Prime ★★★
Macbeth’s Tragedy ★★★