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Nick Bagnall on Directing Guys and Dolls

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What does a 2010 audience bring to Guys and Dolls which perhaps the 1950 one did not?
I think a modern audience is no different in the sense that they want a night of exhilarating theatre as a form of escape. With a tried and tested musical of this sort a modern audience can have so many memories stored away somewhere (whether that be of the film or just a tune they can hum) which it is my job to unearth and remind them of.

Is it rooted in the past or does it have contemporary relevance?
It is at times a very old-fashioned book but there is a definite sense of timelessness. I am setting the piece very specifically in the summer of 1946 – which is the summer before Damon Runyon died. There is a quote which says that “when Damon Runyon died a piece of Broadway wept”. This I think very much places it in a very specific time but that is not to say that the resonance isn’t as pertinent today. It is a book very much rooted in history but in no way stuck and stuffy.

What has influenced your production for Cambridge?
My influences have almost certainly come from the short stories of Damon Runyon. The characters that he encountered on his days in Broadway. The world of his in which the crap games and the gamblers mix with strip joints and bookies. He writes of them with such fondness that it is impossible not to feel a sense of joy when you read them. This sense of joy and love for these characters that Runyon so obviously felt can’t help but feed through us in the creative team.

How have you cast the show?
We are using some Cambridge-based and unpaid actors for the ensemble, which means rehearsals are very difficult to schedule and we are working round them. I have an amazing bunch of actors who are dedicated and committed to telling the right story and for that I am blessed. We also have limited time but I am excited and exhilarated by the pressure we are under. My main principals are truly an amazing bunch of actors who are so experienced that nothing fazes them and it is my job to keep the ship afloat and if that means doing 24 hours a day then so be it. I love my job and will give everything to get it right.

What’s your next project?
I am going to direct Billy Liar at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It is the 50th anniversary of the original West End production – and it is the first play that connected with me as a kid – so it is a very thrilling prospect. I am also developing a new play by a brilliant writer called Geoff Thompson.

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