Review: Guys and Dolls

MILO YIANNOPOULOS: ‘Overall? Awesome, and I’ll be first in line for the next production at the Arts Theatre.’

Saturday 1st May at the Cambridge Arts Theatre. £15-35.

Directed by Nick Bagnall.

By rights, I ought to have been staked out on a dining table last night and buggered by a randy don with a pocketful of Viagra. But I wasn’t, because, despite pulling every string I could, I missed out on a ticket to the Adonians. (Unlike my best mate from Wolfson, who obviously greased more geriatric palms than I did, and whom I imagine to be rinsing the semen out of his hair as I write.)

Now, you might suppose, given the coincidence of the Adonians dinner and a Saturday night at the Arts Theatre, that the majority of Cambridge’s elderly homosexuals were safely tucked away in a back court, thrusting themselves at fresh-faced undergraduates. And that consequently the audience for Guys and Dolls would be quite modest.

But neither assumption is correct. The gay orgy seemed to have no effect on audience numbers. In fact, we shared a lift with three of the most ostentatious queens I’ve ever met, each of them sporting regulation spectacle cords, unconvincing hairpieces and brightly coloured linen trousers. To be fair, though, I’d rather share a lift with those harmless pensioners than with a clutch of toothless, grubby dons in patched tweed lunging at me with – as Hannibal Lecter so memorably put it – tedious sticky fumblings in mind. Still sore about not getting a ticket for Peterhouse? Me? Not a bit.

Our colourful lift-mates came as a mystery to Boris, my Serbian companion for the evening, who claimed, en route to the theatre, never to have seen a musical. “We don’t have them in Serbia,” he declared, gravely, before asking if he should have passed his eye over “the libretto” before coming. But he wasn’t fooling anyone: I’ve seen the kind of drivel Serbia enters Eurovision with.

And so to Guys and Dolls, which deserves a paragraph or two of praise. This was the first full-scale “professional” musical production at the Arts Theatre, so the bottom line is: given how much work it must have been to put it together, should they do it again? The answer is emphatically Yes. OK, so there were shaky bits here and there. It wasn’t as tight as I expected (though weekend shows can be tricky; you never know if it’s lack of polish or exuberant abandon), and casting seems to have been done with the focus on singing and little regard to acting ability. There was zero chemistry, and perhaps even a slight frostiness, between Harry Hepple’s Sky Masterson and Anna Lowe’s Sarah Brown. (Christ, that name has a sinister resonance now, doesn’t it?) Lowe left me cold, actually:  too much Mary Poppins and not enough emotional anguish.

The show was undoubtedly Jenni Maitland’s, whose hysterical Miss Adelaide, complemented by some brilliant Hotbox girls, reminded us of the show’s inherent misogyny. Guys and Dolls is the original washing powder commercial insofar as insecure, hysterical women dominating their useless male counterparts is concerned, but numbers like Marry The Man Today leave you in no doubt about the gender politics on offer. Maitland’s stunning performance contrasted sharply with Lukus Alexander, whose Big Jule wasn’t even hilariously bad, just painful to watch.

The second half of the show was a triumph, prompting me to lean over to Boris and whisper “See? This is what people come to musicals for!”, despite an audience a little too keen to get involved themselves. I’m reminded of a friend of mine who used to make churlish jokes about the lack of sophistication in musical theatre enthusiasts. Unkind, but not totally unfounded.

Overall? Awesome, and I’ll be first in line for the next production at the Arts Theatre. But only on the condition that Chief Executive Dave Murphy (who, I was horrified to discover in his programme notes, thinks the plural of "theatre" is "theatre's") promises, in writing, that Lukus Alexander will never be allowed near the stage again.

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