An eager fresher preparing for my first ever Cherwell review, I entered the Keble O’Reilly theatre not entirely sure what to expect. All I knew about the production was what I had heard from chorus member Dan Zurbrurgg—that the casting was only confirmed three weeks ago, that rehearsals had been intense, and that there are a lot of surprises. To an extent, Dan was right. ‘Surprised’ is certainly a word I would use to describe my reaction, but perhaps ‘mind blown’ would be more accurate.
The sheer detail in every aspect of production is what first impressed upon me. From the carefully designed set (a replica of the New York skyline made out of cards), which changes from a gambling den to a missionary Church centre within seconds, to the meticulously choreographed chorus scenes, the production flows seamlessly. The careful direction makes full use of the space provided by the O’Reilly Theatre, with cast members at times sitting among the audience on tables at the front, affecting a sense of intimacy that perfectly suits the size of the venue. Indeed, this sense of immaculacy extends to all aspects of the play, from the diverse casting—led by the immensely impressive Laurence Belcher and Emilie Finch—to the musical team, who execute delicate romantic pieces with the same ease as classic big-band show stoppers. The ensemble cast are also superb, and the overall impression is both professional and engaging—it is hard to believe the production is run by students as the standard is so incredibly high.
Perhaps most notable are some of the creative decisions taken that really give the production a certain joie-de-vivre. The decision to relocate the play to prohibition America (rather than the typical 1950s post-war setting) contributes to the unique sense we get that what we are seeing is something new, rather than a well-loved classic, and this sense is further enhanced by the personification of ‘luck’ as (incredibly talented) dancer Lena Schienwild,a creative decision that gives the show a stylised and artsy feel. Overall Issy Fidderman’s version of Guys and Dolls is exceptional in the way that it revives an old classic in refreshing and new manner, and after listening to the “oohs” and “wows” of the people sat around me, it seems clear that this opinion is universally shared by the audience.
Guys and Dolls really has something for everyone, whether you’re looking for an endearing love story, an outstanding musical score or just an evening of entertainment. The enthusiasm of the cast members is infectious and it is impossible not to leave the auditorium with a smile on your face. Overall, the cast, crew and musical team have all done a phenomenal job on Guys and Dolls, but tickets are selling out fast, with the final performance on Saturday, so my advice would be to act fast so as not to miss this gem of a musical.