Guys and Dolls – review
Talawa Theatre / Royal Exchange, Manchester

Words by: Annie Butcher | Published: Monday, December 18, 2017 9:33 AM
RET & Talawa - Guys&Dolls - Evonnee Bentley-Holder (Mimi), Toyan Thomas-Browne (Moe), Koko Basingara (Alison) - Image Manuel Harlan RET & Talawa - Guys&Dolls - Evonnee Bentley-Holder (Mimi), Toyan Thomas-Browne (Moe), Koko Basingara (Alison) - Image Manuel Harlan

Relocating Frank Loesser’s well known musical to the depths of Harlem was a fitting decision by Michael Buffong, and worked brilliantly with Talawa’s talented all black cast.


It was fantastic to see the UK’s first all-black cast of Guys and Dolls bring joy and diversity to a classic story.

Despite the stripped back set consisting of a lamppost and neon-lit drug store on a curb, colourful 50’s suits that swaggered under smoky blue lights located the scene in the underground New York crap game. Kenrick Sandy’s choreography added panache to the show with low bent knees that jerked back and forth and slick transitions that used the space well. Choreography was at its best when it transformed the space from Harlem to Havana. Merging swing and salsa, the cast was bursting with energy, contrasting to the previous rigidity of the save-a-soul mission, led by Sergeant Sarah.


RET & Talawa - Guys&Dolls - Ashley Zhangazha (Sky Masterson) and Cast - Image Manuel Harlan RET & Talawa - Guys&Dolls - Ashley Zhangazha (Sky Masterson) and Cast - Image Manuel Harlan

The production skilfully drew out blues and jazz from the original score, with strong voices all round.


Though Abiona Omonua’s performance of Sarah was alluring, Lucy Vandi’s Adelaide stole the show for me. The Royal Exchange’s space was perfect for “Adelaide’s Lament”, as she sang out to the audience looking hopeless, walking around the stage set in the round. Her mannerisms and sassy tone of voice brought a realness to Adelaide’s frustration as a doll trying to pin down a guy, not to mention humour.


The production skilfully drew out blues and jazz from the original score, with strong voices all round. This flair was evident in “Luck Be a Lady”, led by Sky played by Ashley Zhangazha (read interview) whose performance was compelling throughout.


RET & Talawa - Guys&Dolls - Ray Fearon (Nathan Detroit), Lucy Vandi (Miss Adelaide) and Full Cast - Image by Manuel Harlan RET & Talawa - Guys&Dolls - Ray Fearon (Nathan Detroit), Lucy Vandi (Miss Adelaide) and Full Cast - Image by Manuel Harlan

As a whole, Talawa’s added flavour to the Broadway hit with its rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat”, standing out as the best number in the performance. The mission did not just save, but gave a whole lotta soul when hollering this song with the sinners. With an eruption of bent over clapping and clicking from the cast, Nicely’s dream became a joyous gospel exaltation.


It was fantastic to see the UK’s first all-black cast of Guys and Dolls bring joy and diversity to a classic story.



Info: Guys and Dolls is at the Royal Exchange, Manchester until 27 Jan 2018 / see listing




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