Guys and Dolls at The Bridge Theatre


In musical theatre, there is a phenomenon known as “the 11 o’clock number”. Some musicals choose to have their big showstopping number at the end of the first half (think Phantom of the Opera and ‘All I Ask Of You’), which is all well and good, but there is a point in most shows that the audience, having, hopefully, been applauding and appreciative for the best part of two hours, might be feeling slightly weary. Therefore, the great, enduring shows save their best song for towards the end of the second half, giving the grateful viewers a kick of adrenaline that will see them through the inevitable standing ovation at the end and send them out buzzing onto the streets.

 In the case of the classic American musical Guys and Dolls, the stand-out number – by a country mile – is ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat’. It is guaranteed, through its encores and original performance, to get the audience on their feet, clapping and singing along. It is one of the great songs in American musical theatre, or from any other nationality, for that matter. And it gets better as it goes on, unusually. It is a stunning moment, and in Nicholas Hytner’s monumental production at the Bridge Theatre, it is probably the most fun that you will have in London at the moment.

Yet the rest of the show matches it, too; it may already have been running a year, but thanks to an adroit cast change and subtle tweaks in staging, it feels as fresh and exciting as it must have done when it premiered in 1950 in Broadway, courtesy of Frank Loesser’s endlessly hummable music, brilliant, at times WS Gilbert-esque lyrics and Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’s witty and consistently funny book, based on the indelible Damon Runyon stories. It is probably the biggest hit in London right now, and reminds us that Hytner is the genius responsible for everything from Miss Saigon to One Man, Two Guvnors.   

 The plot is Runyon-esque simplicity itself. Nathan Detroit (Owain Arthur, a previous star of Guvnors) is engaged to nightclub singer Miss Adelaide (the astonishing Timmika Ramsay), and has been for the past fourteen years. Detroit is a low-level gambler who comes into contact with the suave and far more successful Sky Masterson (George Ionannides), and, desperate to raise a thousand dollars, bets Masterson that he cannot seduce the holier-than-thou Salvation Army worker Sarah Brown (Celinde Schoenmaker) into accompanying him on a trip to Cuba. Throw in a dozen of the snappiest-dressed rogues that you can imagine, assorted lawmen and low lives, and you have the recipe for a wonderfully entertaining night out.

I opted for a seat, because I am ancient and get weary easily, but the most absorbing way to see this immersive production – designed by the great Bunny Christie – is to opt for a standing ticket, which places you right in the centre of the action and, on occasion, allows you to interact with the cast, thanks to a clever set that uses hydraulics to raise and lower the relevant parts, depending on the setting.

It hurtles along at a fair old whack – three hours go by in the blink of an eye – and by the time that Jonathan Andrew Hume’s Nicely Nicely Johnson is launching into ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat, it is inconceivable that you’d wish to be anywhere else. Booking is open until 31 August; it is not beyond the bounds of belief that this will run, and run, and run. And it deserves to.

Guys & Dolls runs at The Bridge Theatre until 31st August. For more information, including showtimes, and for tickets, please visit