MUSICAL / As if lives depend on it: Robert Maycock on a production of Guys and Dolls by prisoners and Pimlico Opera

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Following last year's West Side Story is a tall order. When a group of Wandsworth Prison inmates swings round and belts out 'Gee, Officer Krupke - krup you]', it doesn't just sound as if they mean it. Guys and Dolls, the choice of Pimlico Opera for this year's collaboration, is a more ironic, nostalgic sort of show, but it has the asset of blurring the moral boundaries.

The big-time gambler Sky Masterson may be 'saved' by falling for Sarah, but she can only save her mission hall from closure by a blatant public lie. The wisdom of the street comes out on top.

Whenever there's a chance, the energy flows once again as if lives depend on it. There's some high-velocity dancing, to Paul Madden's choreography. The prisoners in prominent roles have more subtle characterisations to deal with. The conductor, Wasfi Kani, and director, Syd Ralph, have the tactics to draw it out and then, on the night, to fire up the professional singers to the same level.

'Sit down, you're rocking the boat' was the peak, roared by the chorus with Keel Watson's Nicely-Nicely Johnson up front in full flow. Benny Southstreet had a bulky-suited Steve Elias delivering a sharp, unflagging vocal portrayal and some unlikely athletics for so small an acting space. Joseph Corbett's Sky had the shifty look and the seductive singing lines; Anne O'Neill caught Sarah's thawing-out with voice as well as body.

Mary King gave Miss Adelaide the full measure of comically desperate opportunism. I'm sure I heard her sing 'A person can remember a cough', but the line sounded completely in character. Punchy saxophones and brass; scrawny strings.

People in the company are exhilarated, though they say they've had a tougher time of it this year from some of the prison officers. Sceptics should see the show. You may go in there thinking prisons are for punishment, not having fun. But you are unlikely to avoid confronting an alternative view. Guys and Dolls is a lifeline, and wouldn't you want to know it was there to grasp?

Performances to 27 November (apply 17 Grove Terrace, Teddington, TW11 8AU).

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