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July 7 2019, Reviews The David Beach Competition

Guys and Dolls

WODS Musical Theatre Company

The Playhouse Theatre

Weston-super-Mare

Saturday 6th July 2019

There are occasions in my critical career when I have looked back on an evening in the theatre and realised that I am just a little closer to the grave and I will never see that two-and-a-half hours again. Then there’s those evenings when the show flows nicely, the singing is tuneful, the costumes are colourful and the time feels like a great investment. Well last night’s Guys and Dolls felt like a Saturday night well spent: I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

WODS (Worle Operatic and Dramatic Society) have been up and running for almost fifty years, delivering a tremendous range of productions in and around Weston. The last few years have seen Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Oh What a Lovely War, Midsummer Night’s Dream and Made In Dagenham. In line with such diversity Guys and Dolls feels like a great ‘fit’ for this very inclusive and friendly society: one of the great shows, packed with hit songs and well-loved by many (including yours truly).

Director Blair Ruddock had decided to add a bit of a modern ‘twist’ to his production of the Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows classic. Blair apparently considered the two main female lead parts to be ‘weak’ characters and wanted, rather to emphasise their strengths. Sky, Sarah, Nathan and Adelaide and the relationships therein comprise the heart of the show, something of an iconic foursome, so it would be interesting to see this new ‘take’.

A strong cast graced the stage of the Playhouse. G’s and D’s is blessed with plenty of colourful character parts with splendid Damon Runyon soubriquets and all were grasped firmly by the sharp lapels of their checkered coats. To name a few: Scott Riney was a very funny and watchable Nicely-Nicely Johnson, played with a gently camp ‘feel’, this was a lovely piece of character acting (and singing); Aaron Pengelly gave us a nicely nervy and jittery Benny Southstreet; Gail Mee was full of energy as General Cartwright and Paul Redding’s gentle performance as Arbide Abernathy, complete with a sweet rendition of More I Cannot Wish You, was beautiful judged.

The Principal four gave us some captivating moments too. Twenty-one year old Nick Uttley (an alumnus of WODS’ marvelous youth section ‘Spectrum’) brought a real maturity of voice and performance to his portrayal of the suave professional gambler Sky Masterson; Becky Jackson showed a remarkable vocal range as Sister Sarah Brown; Ed Creswick brought his usual brand of smooth, polished performance to the role of the benighted Nathan Detroit and Cath Back was charming and funny as Miss Adelaide.

 The show worked well, skipping along at commendable pace: scene changes were slickly achieved, cue bite was sharp and clarity of diction was remarkable. The sound balance between the powerful, tight orchestra under MD Kevin Joint and the cast was very good indeed. This show is full of sharp, snappy, funny dialogue and great lyrics. It was a delight to hear every word (sadly something of a rarity in a good many productions). The ‘look’ was attractive – relatively simple staging combined with attractive costume working well. I was a little less sure of some of the lighting decisions – too often characters’ faces were lost and there were too many distracting changes and ‘effects’ for me.

If I am to be ‘picky’ (and I suppose that is part of my job here) I would have like to have seen a little more engagement within the pairs of principal characters. Whilst understanding the Director’s intentions to bolster the strengths of the women, I feel that the tensions within the pairings were missing a little something. Having said this, each individual performance was very watchable so: what do I know?

WODS’ production of Guys and Dolls was the epitome of Amateur Musical Theatre: A group of like-minded folk from the local community giving their ‘all’ to richly entertain their community. The audience in the oven-like auditorium on Saturday evening clearly enjoyed the show hugely, as did I. Keep on doing what you do WODS – You are what its all about.

Thanks for inviting me

Ian