Now in its fourth year of professional summer shows, the open air theatre in the magnificent grounds of Leicestershire’s Kilworth House Hotel is fast becoming a highlight of the season.
The superb facilities, attentive volunteers and a pleasant summer evening all make a significant contribution to the success of the venture, which is the brainchild of owners Celia and Richard Mackay and the product of a creative collaboration with director Mitch Sebastian and musical director Matthew Freeman, as in previous years.
This time out, they have opted for the Frank Loesser musical Guys and Dolls, based on the witty and wonderful New York stories of Damon Runyon, and the thorough exploitation of the theme even extends to gangster hats worn by the car-park attendants.
In the production, Sebastian has thought of everything. On a stylised card-deck and craps table set (Charles Cusick Smith and Phil R Daniels), the fast-paced action is played out by a huge cast of… well, guys and dolls, who are never lacking in enthusiasm and commitment. Oh, and there’s a fabulous cameo by an airplane.
The band – sadly hidden away inside a kind of canvas box – are as tight and top-quality as you could hope for, making every musical number fizz with energy, while Sebastian’s choreographic credentials are evident throughout, with dance steps accompanying every song, and quite a bit of the dialogue too.
There are some strong supporting performances, with the dolls turning in a couple of great numbers as the Hot Box cabaret showgirls and Ian Mowat’s Harry the Horse leading the well-judged cameos among the guys. Jamie Golding almost steals the entire show as Nicely-Nicely Johnson with his perfectly-voiced rendition of Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.
Among the principals, Sarah Ingram is the stand-out performer as the permanently engaged, never married Miss Adelaide. The voice, look and characterisation are spot on, and there’s some fine emotional heartstring-tugging in her two Laments.
Paul Baker is a wise-cracking, cheeky chappie of a Nathan Detroit, and if Paul Robinson and Lizzii Hills don’t quite hit the same levels as Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown, the momentum of the show is enough to carry it through and send the audience home smiling and tapping their feet.