By Peter Calder
I often spend most of my free time-consuming film and TV, but occasionally I venture outside of the screen realm to the stage. On a recent trip, I attended a performance of “Guys & Dolls” at the Bridge Theatre in London.
Long story short, it was a spectacular experience.
The show was performed on an innovative changing stage in the center of the space, giving the viewers a 360-degree view of the action. Because of this new immersive design, the best seats in the house aren’t seats at all but are standing on the floor right up next to the performance. Of course, standing up for two and a half hours can take a toll, but it’s all worth it here.
As the performance progresses, the stage changes and different sections elevate and lower. When this happens, the viewers on the floor move and morph with the performance, backing up when the stage rises and walking over the lowered sections bringing you right into the performance. It felt as if the crowd was another section or aspect of the performance itself, and you were intertwined behind the scenes in a truly “front row” experience. This experience is the opposite of seeing a traditional show from over 100 feet away, squinting to see the actors’ facial expressions.
As for the performance, it was superb. The story of “Guys & Dolls” takes us back to the early 1900s in the New York underworld, a time of gambling, gangsters and prohibition; it focuses on the unlikely love story between a compulsive gambler and a missionary activist. Using minimal set pieces and staging, the acts felt more intimate, focusing on the cast. Some standouts were Daniel Mays, Celinde Schoenmaker and Marisha Wallace, who all have outstanding resumes on past Broadway and West End productions such as “Les Misérables,” “The Caretaker” and “Aladdin” as well as blockbuster films such as “1917” and “Rocketman.” Daniel gives a witty and flamboyant performance, bringing the audience lots of laughs and entertainment. Celinde brought awe with her incredible voice, showcasing the fantastic music that the show yields. Marisha was delightful and passionate, taking all the attention on stage, being remarkable and absolute. Overall the show was incredibly moving and put you face-to-face with some of the best creative talents alive.
This new immersive style of theatre that I have never seen before, paired with the world-class creative talent of performers, writers and musicians, makes this one of those standout experiences you won’t forget.
The production of Guys & Dolls offers a refreshing, innovative experience in a traditional West End theatrical district.