Guys and Dolls

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester; Thursday 18th January, 2018



Harlem, New York, the 1930s. The streets are buzzing with the no-good uncertainty created by hustlers and gamblers: the Guys are decked out in only the sharpest and wildest suits; the Dolls look a million dollars draped in their fine jewellery and garments.

Guys and Dolls is a glorious piece of entertainment: Talawa Theatre have taken one of the 20th century’s most successful and well-known theatre shows and transformed it, in this case giving it an all-black cast and transporting the action into uptown Harlem.

As the performance opens a large, charming ensemble quickly emerges, a quirky assortment comprising of all the shadiest characters in the New York underworld. It soon becomes clear that the Guys are eager for a gambling opportunity and the chance to make big bucks; the Dolls seem sick to be of it, they’re just looking for love.

The action centres around two unlikely couples. The evasive trickster Nathan Detroit spends the whole show searching out a venue for his outlawed game of craps; his long-suffering fiance Miss Adelaide grows ever more weary of his lies and deceit. Then there is the enigmatic hustler Sky Masterson, who forms an unusual and unlikely bond with the god-fearing Miss Sarah.

The lead performers create incredibly rich and believable leading characters, all the personalities and behaviours shine through as the show goes on. Despite all four having conflicting agendas in the plot, the quality of the acting induces sympathy and understanding for each one. And this extends to the supporting cast too, even with so many performers the individual personalities of each of the show’s characters are distinct and unique.

Talawa Theatre’s opening run at the Royal Exchange is epic, the show is on for more than two months, including the Christmas period. Despite my having seen this particular performance towards the end of the run, there wasn’t even the slightest hint of delivery fatigue – it looked as fresh and alive as any performance you could hope to see.

This new adaptation of Guys and Dolls is a real peach of a show. Brilliantly acted with amazing singing performances, this is a delightful little piece of time-travelling escapism that should put a smile on anyone’s face.



Performance aspect Comments Score
Visual pleasure Beautiful set, well-timed lighting effects & great costumes, everyone looked so smart. 5
Auditory pleasure Excellent music and sound effects, really helped to create a sense of being transported back in time onto the streets of 1930s New York. Every single song was perfectly sung, crystal clear voices every time. 5
Architecture & Theme This is a safe and steady theatrical classic. The story is put across well but the show is a little bit too long, just short of 3 hours including the interval. Maybe some of the songs could have come out, would have shortened it and also hastened the action. 3
Artistic delivery Incredible singing and acting performances all round, each individual character shone through, including most of the supporting cast who had limited lines to deliver. 5
Overall impact Full of great jokes with amazing singing and acting performances, all carried by a storyline that flows smoothly, this is such a charming and entertaining show. 4
Final Score: 4.4


Scoring Scheme

0 Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse
1 Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor
2 Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special
3 Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way
4 Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive
5 Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.


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