Tuesday 10 November 2009

Savoy presents Guys and Dolls

I don't think this review quite qualifies for a shameless plug tag, since an examination of the programme indicates that I don't actually know anyone in the production (well, save the two people on the door and one of the people responsible for constructing the sets). That said, I wouldn't have been surprised if I had. During his many years in Edinburgh, my brother, and co-founder of this site, was a stalwart of the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group, I thus know an awful lot of ex-Savoyards.

Heading off to catch their opening night of Guys and Dolls, a slight step away from their usual Gilbert and Sullivan faire, was something of a last minute whim - I hadn't realised it was on until today and this was the only night of the run I could make. I like the show, and it's been a good while since I've seen it (the last time being at the National Theatre quite a few years back).

So how did it stack up? Well, really very enjoyably. Director Lesley Acheson and producer Nick Morris gave us a nice, traditional view of the show without trying anything silly or too clever for its own good. After some of the opera I've seen lately, that is a lovely breath of fresh air. Perhaps more importantly, it was nice to have a good sized band; too many student productions have to recourse to not much more than two pianos. Conductor Iain McLarty (whom I find I know via twitter, and whose blog you'll find a link to over on the right) kept a good grip on things with a lively reading that never dragged and found plenty of drama in the score.

The cast was fairly solid too, led by by Hamish Colville (Sky Masterson) and Katie Irby (Sarah Brown). Scot Dignan (Nathan Detroit) tripped over a few of his lines early on, but never let it dent his stride and turned in a good performance overall. Ali Colam and Finlay Macaulay made for a nice double act as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet. They avoided two musical theatre pitfalls that can easily hobble a show: poor diction and cringeworthy American accents where both notable in their absence.

It wasn't all perfect. A lot of the mistakes felt rather like first night jitters, such as when the orchestra was bathed in bright light briefly for no very good reason. Doors on the set often come or stayed open when they should have been closed and the rather complex scene change into the sewer took just longer than the music allowed and perhaps needed more drilling. It was a good set though (if not on a par with Dave Larking's glorious flying saucer in Salad Days a few years back - think saucer as in cup and saucer, then imagine it at an angle and rotating with people standing and sitting on it and singing; it was quite something else).

More seriously, there was the choreography. This was fine enough in smaller scenes with just a couple of actors on the stage, save an early scene where Detroit seemed to have been instructed to drag his shoes across the stage to make the most annoying sound possible. The big numbers, though, just didn't work for me. The craps shoot in the sewer is a case in point: for the most part they looked like they were doing anything but shooting craps (though some of the things they appeared to be doing to each other and themselves are probably just as illegal in public). Elsewhere, it all just felt a little awkward or, "wouldn't it be cool if they all did this, never mind if it fits". Good choreography should be invisible, in that it shouldn't feel like it's been choreographed.

Inexcusably, given things were amplified and all the principals had mics, the balances were at times poorly judged. This was especially and unfortunately true in two of the show's biggest numbers: during both Luck be a Lady Tonight and Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat the soloist wasn't loud enough, and too often their words were drowned out by either the band or the ensemble. This was a shame since both performers had seemed much stronger elsewhere, only to have biggest numbers fall below expectations.

More minor niggles included the copies of the New York Times actors carried at various points which were not only inconsistent in their size, but also very clearly made from taking UK papers, printing the Times logo on very different paper and taping it on. Fair enough, you might say, but I'm pretty certain there are several newsagents here in Edinburgh where you can easily pick up a copy of the NY Times.

At the end of the day, though, it was a lot of fun, and for £8 (less if you're a concession) you can't say much fairer than that. Doubtless as the run goes on things will tighten up, so if you've a spare evening between Wednesday and Saturday this week and are in the Edinburgh area, you could do an awful lot worse.


Anonymous said...

actually its surprisingly difficult to get a copy of the NY times in edinburgh! :)

Tam Pollard said...

I'm sure I've seen it in some of the newsagents here - there's one on the Royal Mile that has an impressive range of international papers. However, I may be mistaken, in which case I apologise.

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