Review: Guys and Dolls

Samantha Creswick 13 March 2020

The Lent Term Musical is one of the most highly anticipated theatrical events in the ADC calendar. It is also, usually, one of the best displays of student talent, that one occasion when the students of Cambridge come together to put on a polished production. Guys and Dolls was absolutely no exception to this norm.

Yet before I went, I confess I was a little worried about how they would manage it. Guys and Dolls is an interesting choice for the LTM; I expected it to be a more contemporary production, along the lines of last year’s Legally Blonde.

Image credit: Lucia Revel-Chion

While I must admit that the film incarnation of Guys and Dolls is a firm favourite of mine (Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando in one film, hello?!), I was worried at how this story would be received in the student environment; Guys and Dolls is in many ways the fodder of our grandparents, revolving around somewhat problematic ideas about the roles of the titular guys and dolls, with female characters having entrap their paramours in marriage and other characters being passed around like commodities in a bet.

It is a testament to the direction of Phoebe Rowell John that this production of Guys and Dolls didn’t feel misogynistic or archaic, without changing the original book or aesthetics of the production. Her construction of the show is still clearly located in its prohibition-era New York setting, and the original plotlines and jokes remain intact, yet she managed to keep them feeling fresh and tongue-in-cheek, where a lesser director may have tried to cut them out altogether.

Image credit: Lucia Revel-Chion

The music was executed phenomenally, by what appears to be a large orchestra from the CamDram page – they were not visible to the audience. This allowed for a traditionally immersive musical experience, and I must commend their obvious hard work in doing great justice to a difficult score.

The music provided a stunning backdrop to the literally jaw-dropping vocal talent of the show’s main cast. Louisa Chatterton and Satvik Subramaniam turned in very solid vocal performances, and complimented each other’s energy very well. They lived in the same place sonically, and this allowed the romance between their characters to feel wonderfully transcendental of their circumstances.

Image credit: Lucia Revel-Chion

Tom Baarda did an absolutely stunning job as Nathan Detroit, and was one of the funniest parts of the show. The real standout was Mabel Hoskins’ Adelaide, however; she took probably the hardest vocal part in the show and made it completely her own, walking the line between being a comedic yet sympathetic character absolutely perfectly. Her duet ‘Marry the man today’ alongside Louisa Chatterton’s Sarah Brown was a particular highlight; the absolute opposition of their characterisations making for a delightful partnership with delicious sound from two vocal powerhouses.

Image credit: Lucia Revel-Chion

Guys and Dolls is a show that is made or broken on the back of its ensemble, and this one certainly made it big. Every single actor, no matter the size of their part, was turning in a high energy performance. In something of a rarity for a student musical, all of the ensemble were shown to have some talent for dancing, making the big set-piece numbers ‘Luck be a Lady’ and ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat’ a true joy to watch. The MVP of the dance numbers, particularly the ballroom-inspired ‘Havana’, had to be Harry Burke who doubled as the formidable Big Jule – truly this show is worth seeing for his hips alone.

All in all, Phoebe Rowell John’s Guys and Dolls is a fresh take on a much beloved story. To absolutely no surprise, this classic hit is well worth a visit while it’s still on at the ADC.

5 stars.