Guys and Dolls

Feb 15 2024 | By More

★★★★☆     Exuberant

Pleasance Theatre: Tues 13 – Sat 17 Feb 2024
Review by Hugh Simpson

Visually and aurally impressive, Edinburgh University Footlights’ production of Guys and Dolls at the Pleasance is buoyant and extremely enjoyable.

The 1950 musical features small-time hustler Nathan Detroit, needing money for a venue to stage the ‘oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York’. He bets gambler Sky Masterson he will not be able to take devout mission worker Sarah Brown to Havana. Nathan, meanwhile, is constantly avoiding committing to singer Miss Adelaide, his fiancée of fourteen years.

A scene from the EU Footlights’ Guys and Dolls. Pic: Andrew Morris.

It is always going to be good fun, not least because there is something appealingly ludicrous about the exaggerated language given to the heightened gangsters drawn from the works of Damon Runyon, which inspired the musical’s book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.

Such a cartoonish feel does mean that it is easier to skate over some of the more dated attitudes than in other works of the period. Several of Frank Loesser’s musical numbers have also become standards.

This is all done justice by a production of boundless energy. Phee Simpson directs with both imagination and precision, and the choreography of Rosie Fletcher (assisted by Lyss Britton) is first class, making use of a large, hard-working ensemble. Add to this the set of Holly Stephens, which combines effectiveness with user-friendliness, and Tara Healy’s costumes, and this is a production with real visual impact.

exceptionally impressive

Which is matched in terms of sound. The sound design of Eric Rogers is also exceptionally impressive; having an 18-piece band right in front of the audience can often spell disaster, but the balance is spot-on and the mic-switching almost faultless, meaning that every lyric is audible. That band, led by MD Emily Phillips, are remarkably cohesive, by turns warm and punchy.

Which would be for nothing if the onstage performers did not match these efforts, but there is an abundance of talent here too.

Megan Le Brocq and he company of EU Footlights’ Guys and Dolls. Pic Andrew Morris

Megan Le Brocq’s Miss Adelaide is an undoubted star turn; her nightclub performances are full of vitality, and her rendition of Adelaide’s Lament tuneful and sympathetic. Nina Harman is every bit as commanding as Sarah Brown; at times she is on the verge of pushing a commendably strong voice just a little too far, but always manages to rein it in. Her drunk-dancing is extremely good, and her rendition of If I Were A Bell a real highlight.

Sebastian Schneeberger provides a likeable Sky. His duets with Harman are emotional and his big featured number, Luck Be A Lady, has considerable power.

Beni Barker may just be too heartily clubbable to convince as ducker-and-diver Detroit, but has presence and a convincing rapport with Le Brocq’s Adelaide.

good humour

There is a similarly likeable feel to Benji Castella McDonald, Daniel Bryant and Tom Steed as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Benny Southstreet and Harry the Horse. Eleanor Flavin’s Arvide is touching, while Maria McStay’s Big Jule provides plenty of laughs.

In an ensemble that is otherwise female-dominated, Benji Atkinson has to provide a lot of featured dancing as well as playing Lt Brannigan, but carries it all off with good humour.

A scene from EU Footlights’ Guys and Dolls. Pic: Andrew Morris

Towards the end, things understandably flag a little. Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat is usually the showstopper, but here – despite being sung excellently by Castella McDonald – it does not quite have such impact.

Partly this is because the other ensemble numbers – the opening and Fugue for Tinhorns, the Havana sequence, the Crapshooters’ Dance – have been so good that it comes across as just another beautifully-realised sequence. It is also because the whole thing is just slightly running out of breath; certainly the band, so good previously, are less sure by this point.

exuberant and tuneful

Further into the run, this will probably be rectified and push the production further towards five-star territory. As it is, it is already very fine – exuberant and tuneful, but restrained when it needs to be, and featuring some distinctly promising individuals both on and off stage.

Running time: Two hours 50 minutes (including one interval)
Pleasance Theatre, 60 Pleasance, EH8 8TJ
Tuesday 13 – Saturday 17 February 2024
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

EU Footlights Instagram: @eufootlights

Facebook: @edfootlights

A scene from EU Footlights’ Guys and Dolls. Pic: Andrew Morris


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