There isn’t much that’s worth getting up early for on a Sunday, but I’d say that Guys and Dolls is one of those things that qualifies. In the beautiful surroundings of Keble College, a faint cry of musical tunes could be heard in the quad. As I waited in the porter’s lodge and was met by an energetic and smiley face. It was Issy Fiderman, the director. She told me how, during an essay crisis in Fresher’s week, she and a friend had bonded over their mutual love of musical theatre and pondered how they’d perform Guys and Dolls. This snowballed into them creating their own production company and, now in their final year, putting on Guys and Dolls. As we processed down into the depths of the Keble O’Reilly Theatre, as if by magic, a brass quartet welcomed us in to what promised to be an exciting preview.
Now I don’t know much about Guys and Dolls, even though I consider myself a lover of all things musical theatre and generally camp. Issy and her producer, Edward Armstrong explained what was behind each scene with enthusiasm without ruining any surprises (there are lots!) With the entire back wall covered in massive queen of hearts and seven of spades which can be flipped into a huge cross for the Missionary scenes and tables amongst the audience being used as sets, the whole thing feels clever and intimate. Talking to Edward and Issy, this seemed to be an important element of the show: intimacy. From the choice of space to set design to casting, the whole project has been thoroughly planned, making the natural and spontaneous feel of the show even more impressive.
We all know numbers like ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat’ and ‘I’ve Never Been in Love Before’ but this cast and Musical Director have worked to create excitement that makes it feel new and unheard of. To say there is something in this show for everyone sounds, well, clichéd but really, there is. The young and shy sweetness between Gemma Lowcock and Eoghan McNeils contrasted with the buzzing energy in big musical numbers that truly fill the space of the O’Reilly is what you look for in Musical Theatre.
When asked about the casting process it sounds frankly exhausting. Two dance auditions. Two singing rounds. And acting too. It’s no surprise when looking at the cast both individually and as a chorus in tune with one another. The dancing is great, it made me want to join in. The singing was equally as fabulous with performances like Emilie Finch’s, Eoghan McNeils’ and Laurence Jeffcoate’s. The background of the cast was important to this production. They wanted diversity and essentially strong voices and musicality, which is reflected in the performers.
The producers of this show have been a bit cheeky with this one, because they’ve got spare capacity on some of the nights, thanks to the flexibility of the O’Reilly’s seating pattern. This means that even nights which currently read as ‘sold out’ might actually have a few tickets left to sell – if you haven’t bought a ticket, why not go and get one?