revew: Michael Buffong – Guys And Dolls
Guys And Dolls/
“A musical fable of Broadway based on the story and characters of Damon Runyon”/*
music Frank Loesser/
book Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows/
dir Michael Buffong/
prod Royal Exchange Theatre and Talawa/
Royal Exchange Theatre/
Theatre is not telling lies. It’s pretending, sure, but theatre isn’t about deception. We don’t wheel people in to these big dark rooms with the promise that real life will be unfolding in front of them. No one’s been trying to convince the audience Guys And Dolls is some obscene social experiment, where we’ve trapped some hapless gamblers who don’t know what’s happening to them. If anything, Talawa’s Guys And Dolls at the Royal Exchange is Something New – the cast are black, the music has been rescored, it’s set in Harlem now (apparently, but there’s obvz no mention of this in the script because Musical Texts Are Sacred Texts).
The newness of this production is predicated on an understanding of a ‘standard’ (read: ‘white’) Guys And Dolls which this production isn’t. This is a Version, a riff, whatever, on the form. tl;dr I think ‘suspension of disbelief’ isn’t a useful idea. Particularly in the UK, where non-fiction is a specialist category, we know when we are being told stories.
Nathan Detroit is penitent, he’s telling Adelaide how much he loves her or something or maybe hes apologising for running his craps game again after saying hed stop again – hes a liar and hes lying right now – can she forgive him?
someone shouts from the audience. correction: some fucken Hero shouts from the audience
best part of the show.
//In the ideal and perfect version of this old old musical, this cry from the audience is joined by others. The actors attempt to carry on with the Men getting everything they want and the women begrudgingly putting up with it. But The Audience Are Having None Of It. More shouting. More protests. Someone tells Sky Masterson he’s a manipulative dick. Someone else calls Nathan Detroit a tosser. The cast realise there’s no point carrying on and improvise a new ending:
Sarah Brown and Adelaide team up and hatch a plan. They talk to some of the area’s sex workers and find out the craps game is going to be in the sewers. They stay out of the Men’s way and lead them to believe they have no idea the game is still going ahead. Once the game has started, the women alert the local police force, informing them a dangerous gangster from out of town is also in the sewers. The force storm the sewers, armed to the teeth, to flush out the game.
Meanwhile, the women overpower the skeleton staff left at the station and raid the armory for explosives. With a few well-placed blasts, they trap all the men and the entire police force in the sewers.
Then they all perform an ironic all-female rendition of Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat five times. Everyone in the audience bruises their hands applauding.//
bt There is no diverting the course of the play and we all know that at least.
Adelaide will, night after night, take back her wretched, lying husband. Sarah Brown will always decide, oh fuck it love is worth the effort to try to change a man. The men don’t change, they never will, the show’s been over for more than 60 years.
Guys And Dolls is a musical about deception, duplicity and manipulation. In every scene, someone is lying or being lied to, but at the same time, everyone seems to know. There’s a moment near the start, where Lieutenant Brannigan walks on as everyone is talking about the illegal craps game Detroit is putting together. They all stop talking. He knows what they’re up to and what they’ve been talking about. The craps game is an Open Secret but he can’t pin them down without proof/evidence/eyewitness accounts. So at what point does it cease being deception and just become an obscure law of the way people interact? How much of the situation slowly cements, is unchallengeable?
The men in Guys And Dolls are right dickheads and I don’t know how many of the audience think they’re dickheads. And when I wonder if it’s worth caring about what the rest of the audience think anyway I find myself butting my head Once Again up against a kind of theatre that Isn’t As Politicised As I Want It To Be. Yes, it’s Christmas and a theatre needs to sell tickets and fill seats, but the shows that sell tickets seem to be a bit sexist and I’m annoyed. I’ve been saying “at least it’s a bit better than last year’s Sweet Charity, which sees its title character chucked out on her arse for not being a virgin”, but do I actually believe that or is it just a useful thought to toss into a conversation?
The music was fun and the costumes were great and maybe it’s fine to just uncritically try to sell a good time for once. I’m finding viewing the theatre as a political space difficult because every audience member can execute their own discretion to decide what’s a metaphor, what’s ironic, what’s harmless fun. Maybe that’s why politics is messy to begin with.
When you go to see a play, or a film, or musical or whatever, you understand the thing is a put-on. I’m having difficulty unpicking what the function of this participation in the spectacle is. What are we allowing to happen when we allow people to pretend in front of us? How real or unreal is the whole thing? A musical about men manipulating people is only intelligible because we’re so familiar with the idea. That’s how the jokes and music fit in. The established form is useful because you can toss embellishments onto it. I’m inclined to suspect, though, that using the established form at all is too much homage to pay it.
*anyone else amused by these meticulously specific credits on all the posters an literature for musicals? like theyre really worried that people will think the Royal Exchange have made it all up themselves