Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Artistic director Peter Rowe’s centrepiece is his new production of Guys and Dolls, the 1950s musical by Frank Loesser based on some of Damon Runyon’s stories. It’s a co-production with Clwyd Theatr Cymru and the Salisbury Playhouse.
Fittingly, it’s very much an ensemble production with the four main characters – Salvation Army lass Sarah, gambler Obadiah (aka Sky) Masterson, night-club chanteuse Adelaide and her fixer fiancé of 14 years Nathan Detroit – weaving in and out of the background provided by New York’s underworld in pursuit of a fast buck.
Right from the moment these dice-throwing gangsters step menacingly across the stage with their cases (which might well conceal weaponry), it’s this background rather than the love stories that matter. Nearly all the cast play instruments on stage, mainly brass, but the sound has been carefully managed (Kevin Hayes) so that we catch most of the ill-important words in Loesser’s complexly patterned lyrics.
The choreography of Francesca Jaynes and Libby Watson’s costumes are also effective. Watson’s set is deceptively simple and allows for briskly efficient scene changes. Against this bustle, both Laura Pitt-Pulford as Sarah and Robbie Scotcher as Masterson take every chance to shine; Pitt-Pulford has a strong voice and an engaging personality with just the right touch of fire.
Comedy couples do tend to take centre stage – you can see why Laurence Olivier wanted to play Nathan Detroit. Rosie Jenkins makes slightly dim-witted Adelaide into a real person, managing her club scenes with style and eventually getting her man. Ben Fox wiggles in and out of potentially disastrous escapades with the aplomb of the born survivor. Johnson Willis and Gaven Spokes also stand out from the crowd. The hard-working musical director is Greg Palmer.