five stars for Guys & Dolls, plus Marjorie Prime and The Tragedy of Macbeth – review

Don’t just rock the boat. Making it fly. Tickets to Nicholas Hytner’s production of Boys and dolls will be the most wanted of the season. This 1950 musical (music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows) has it all. Dialogues and lyrics take flight from Damon Runyon’s stories, crackling and pungent. The plot – centered on the clash and elision between sharps and salvificists – is energetic, tender and shrewd. The musical numbers are nonstop lavish—in fact, such a roll of glory the logjam can threaten: “showstopper” isn’t always a recommendation when the show must go on.

This staging never stops working. Powered by design by Bunny Christie, musical supervision by Tom Brady and choreography by Arlene Phillips with James Cousins, it swings up, down and sideways, enveloping the audience without ever dimming the glow of the performance. In what is becoming a Bridge specialty, several scenes are staged on platforms that move around a standing audience of 420 (there are 600 seated spectators). Paule Constable’s stripped-down lighting and Christie’s design create a neonorama: scarlet caps and orange cursive, a glowing barber’s pole, a curved lime green arrow. The Hot Box cabaret goes up and down; on the other side, Mindy’s deli slips into view; steam puffs out of the manhole through which players seep into the sewers.

This is immersive theater with a real point. It’s not just that you get new thrills, you see new jokes from being close to the action. This is a flat-out urban story: It should never freeze into fixed pieces; it needs the push of the city and the faces from the street. Here the audience acts as an additional backdrop to the escape scenes. Yet the actors are always distinct. Dishly so. The costumes, by Christie and Deborah Andrews, are a jazz of caps and homburgs, large plaid jackets and frilly skirts that skim the bottom, corsets trimmed with pink feathers.

And, oh, the thrill of choreography that’s exact, from the toe of a cap to the toe of a related shoe; that zips through small spaces without feeling cramped, and has more flashes than frills, more expression than attitude. And a lot of piquant innovation: the Havana dance sequence is performed by male couples: our hero is to be turned away by a tightly dressed chap; a dirty cabaret number is brilliant with carrots.

Marjorie Prime is set in the near future where having an iPhone is a sign of being ancient

It’s an evening of full scope, not dependent on the stars. However, leads are great. Daniel Mays brings a particular mix of ambiguity and amiability to Nathan Detroit. Andrew Richardson has ease as the fantastic Sky, who seems to relax in luck and song. As Miss Adelaide (certainly the only heroine who ever sang about having a cold), Marisha Wallace rocks the stage with glee, like she did in Young Vic’s Oklahoma! Playing upright Sarah Brown, Celinde Schoenmaker soars, melts and unravels spectacularly, button by button: never has the missionary position been so captivating. Musical highlights go beyond excitement and deception. Over the course of Sky and Sarah’s love duets, their voices change to create a new blend of sounds, a new beginning. Sarah and Adelaide’s skeptical but fond Marry the Man Today suggests that this musical could also be called Dolls & Guys.

Something happens in Nancy Carroll’s face that I’ve never seen before. It seems to melt, to lose definition: to gradually but irrevocably shift from a skeptical poise to an anxious blur. It would almost be worth going to see Marjorie First only for what. Or the way Anne Reid, playing Carroll’s implacable mother, laces a wide grin across her features and leaves you guessing just how much she expresses whatever she may be feeling.

Dominic Dromgoole’s elegant new production, which also has deft performances from Tony Jayawardena and Richard Fleeshman, makes something softly probing out of Jordan Harrison’s oeuvre. Slightly against the odds. Set in a near future where having an iPhone is a sign of being ancient, the plot revolves around the idea of ​​creating avatars who, when fed true human memories, will be able to replicate the dead, offering comfort to the mourners .

It was first staged in Los Angeles in 2014 and Harrison deserves a round of applause for his foresight. There are sharp twists on the question of what counts as recognizable personal information: like thinking that the only perfume a woman needs is fabric softener. Interesting identity dilemmas are raised: how much can you forget and still be yourself? How many memories of someone else can you store without becoming that person? Yet, while enhanced by Jonathan Fensom’s clever design, in which blue skies transform into unfathomable constellations, the action intrigues rather than engages, unfolding deftly but mechanically. Gifted actors suggest another level: How does an audience distinguish between humans and mimic robots?

The Flabbergast Theater company has a good name. They aim to shock the public. The crew’s quick and snappy version of The tragedy of Macbeth, directed and conceived by founder Henry Maynard, is driven by witches, who too often get little attention in contemporary productions. These strange sisters transform into other characters. Beating on huge drums, they set the pulse of the action.

In true magical fashion, characters and objects become grotesquely, sometimes comically indistinct. Watching the action unfold is like watching an object take shape and disintegrate on a potter’s wheel. Everything on the stage is the color of pale mud: the background of gray tarpaulins, rough and fluttering costumes, smeared faces. Matej Majeka’s direction of movement causes the actors to elaborate slowly, as if walking through quicksand or gesturing stiffly like creatures in a frieze. The Porter, that usually dreaded unfunny interlude, is a modern clown: he moves fluidly, has a shrill voice, only occasionally breaking out into recognizable words. He is the shadow of the earth, barely dressed. He could be poor Tom that he ran away from king Lear.

First seen in Edinburgh last summer, the effect can be more strenuous than explosive, and always more visual than verbal. The speeches are sung at the top of their lungs, as if from a frantic unconscious: exclamations, sometimes (I was in the preview) unclear, and of not very varied intensity, even if the multitasking Maynard recites “tomorrow and tomorrow” with resonant slowness, suggesting that the time had really begun to creep. However, the imaginative rethinking is striking, not least in Adam Clifford’s musical arrangements, which blend Japanese taiko and English folk song. The evening ends with a memorable chorus by Three Ravens. Those witches can turn into anything.

Star ratings (out of five)
Boys and dolls
Marjorie First ★★★
The tragedy of Macbeth ★★★

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