REVIEW: Guys and Dolls (Royal Exchange, Manchester)

© Manuel Harlan
© Manuel Harlan
Upstaged Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Royal Exchange have pulled a Christmas cracker of a show this festive season with their lively and glamorous interpretation of Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls. With Michael Buffong at the helm, the action is set in the heart of the Harlem Renaissance, encapsulating the vigour of Black America at this time – this is feel-good, toe-tappingly fabulous theatre from beginning to end.

The action centres around the gambling world – where a roll of the dice can settle even the most awkward of arguments. With every new day comes a new hustle – but will their luck stick when they try to gamble with love?

With arguably the most beautiful cast that I have seen on stage in some time, vibrant musical numbers and slick scene changes – Talawa Theatre Co’s Guys and Dolls is charming, witty and packed with sentiment. Capturing the swing and soul of Harlem in the late 1930’s and the sensual, eclectic vibe of Havana – Kenrick ‘H20’ Sandy’s choreography is a delight. With a roll of the dice, ‘Luck Be A Lady’ is a swinging, clicking sensation and a gospel style ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat’ exudes energy and fun, led with vigour by Ako Mitchell, as a towering Nicely-Nicely Johnson.

In a suit as blue as his name, Ashley Zhangazha is hugely charismatic as the infamous Sky Masterson – exuding boyish charm, holding the audiences gaze from the very start. Abiona Omonua shows versatility in her voice and gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Salvation Army Sergeant Sarah Brown – demonstrating control in her mission to convert the gambling sinners of Harlem while also revealing her adventurous side in Havana.

Ray Fearon as Nathan Detroit and Lucy Vandi as cabaret singer Miss Adelaide, who has been waiting 14 years for a marriage proposal – share some poignant comic moments. Vandi’s ‘A Person Could Develop a Cold’ is a highlight – revealing the humour behind the tragic realisation of her situation in love.   

Michael Buffong’s Guys and Dolls is the perfect celebratory Christmas production.  Playing out in-the-round on the Royal Exchange’s iconic stage, you’ll be left with a spring in your step and a smile on your face long after leaving the theatre. This is a performance that should not be missed.    

-Kristy Stott

Guys and Dolls HAS NOW BEEN EXTENDED and runs until 3rd February 2018.

 

REVIEW: Fatherland (Royal Exchange, Manchester)- Manchester International Festival

Fatherland at Manchester's Royal Exchange. Performed as part of Manchester International Festival. © Manuel Harlan
Fatherland at Manchester’s Royal Exchange.
Performed as part of Manchester International Festival.
© Manuel Harlan
upstaged rating: ⭐⭐

Fatherland is one of the central performance pieces at the 2017 Manchester International Festival. Staged in Manchester’s monumental Royal Exchange Theatre, Fatherland is the product of an impressive creative team and seeks to explore themes around fatherhood and men’s relationships with their fathers.

Co-created by Olivier Award-winning Simon Stephens (Writer), Scott Graham of physical theatre giants Frantic Assembly (Director) and founding member of Underworld Karl Hyde (Composer)- Fatherland has been described as a verbatim piece, though it is unclear how much the stories have been edited to fit the trio’s own agenda. Fatherland is inspired by conversations with fathers and sons from the creative team’s hometowns of Stockport, Kidderminster and Corby.  So, there’s an overwhelming sense of each of the co-creators relationship with their old stomping ground. 

As the play opens we meet the three interviewers, played admirably by Emun Elliott, Bryan Dick and Ferdy Roberts, who are ready to make their show. As they explain the premise behind their interviews with real men, there is a sense that we are watching a frame story – the ground is being laid before the show digs deeper. Sadly, Fatherland never really gets to the good stuff.

Along the way, the interviewers meet an array of characters with stories to tell – some aim for humour, some try to shock while other tales are warm, familiar and comforting. A range of subjects and experiences are tackled including alcoholism, violence, childhood experiences and their love of football. We hear tales surrounding fatherhood from single dads, men who have never known their fathers and those who are yet to father; we meet men who are firefighters, jolly pensioners and those battling mental health issues.

I’m just not sure why the creators choose to punctuate these stories with an intermittent reminder of the fact that they are making a show? Is there an element of self-indulgence? Is it a show to tell us more about the creators (who now reside in London) and the industrial towns from which they hail? One potential interviewee called Luke (Ryan Fletcher) shares the scepticism and questions the integrity of the interviewers, “Do you think this is going to be in any way interesting to anybody?” Funnily enough, I asked myself the same question frequently throughout the dull 90 minutes duration.

-Kristy Stott

Fatherland runs at the Royal Exchange, Manchester until 22nd July 2017 as part of Manchester International Festival 2017.