THEATRE

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The Independent Culture
Guys and Dolls, National Theatre, London SE1

(0171 928 2252) In preview, opens Tuesday

"I can talk, black's very flattering and I'd look good in a wig... hey, I'm a barrister." I think not. Lawyers go to law school. "I want to heal the sick, I'm a dab hand with a scalpel and my bedside manner is great... I'm a surgeon." No you're not, you have to go to medical school first. "I like plays, I'm very persuasive and I've got enough money to put on a show... I'm a director." That's all it takes.

Most directors begin as amateurs. That's not an insult, it's a statement of fact. Actors and stage managers spend their lives picking up the pieces and will recite lists of directors well into their careers who are amateurs still. But that's a slightly different matter. There's hardly anywhere in this country where you can train for the job and virtually no one outside the profession has a clue about what it is that a director actually does.

You'll be having far too good a time to notice, but if you want to experience great directing, rush to Richard Eyre's legendary, scintillating Guys and Dolls. It helps when your material is as good as this unparalleled collection of terrific tunes, glorious lyrics and, most importantly, a great book based on Damon Runyon, but audiences and mealy-mouthed critics who had prophesied doom were blown away by the production.

Firstly, Eyre put together a solid gold production team and then cast talent, not names. Next, he and designer John Gunter came up with a unifying look from the gambling dens to the neon filled skyline. Then together with choreographer David Toguri, he proceeded to fill every corner of the Olivier's vast stage with energy.

On subsequent viewings, it was clear that Eyre not only understood this show, he loved it and had lavished affection and inspiration on every possible moment, highlighting important details of plot and performance that lesser talents wouldn't even have noticed.

If this revival is anything like the original, you should cancel everything for the sheer brazen glory of "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat" complete with dancing nuns. Pardon me, but it's heaven.

EYE ON THE NEW

Dickensian Christmas seekers should avoid the appalling Scrooge at all costs and head instead to Hammersmith where Richard Briers looks like being memorably miserly in Neil Bartlett's version of A Christmas Carol.

Lyric Hammersmith, London W8 (0181 741 2311)

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