Anyone hankering for a small but heart-swelling production of a great American musical at highly affordable prices should make a bee-line to this family-run venue in North London. Directed by Racky Plews, it could well be the first-ever Fringe production of Frank Loesser’s 1950 classic. Whether or not this information is entirely accurate, all I know is that I enjoyed Plews’ intimate, traverse staging considerably more than the West End revival headlined by Ewan McGregor in 2005.

When done with as much affectionate care and detailed invention as it receives here, Guys and Dolls seems just about the most perfect show. Plews and a 13-strong ensemble breathe fresh life into a book (by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows) based on some of Damon Runyon’s tall tales about various lovable rogues whose racy turf is the underbelly of midtown Manhattan. The script fuses cartoon gangsterism from a bygone era with comic romance embodied by two couples whose troubled love lives dovetail beautifully. The whole enterprise is wrapped up in a witty, hummable score by Loesser that remains an evergreen gift to performers and audiences alike.

I said there are 13 all-singing, all-dancing actors in Plews’s production but a New

Year’s Day injury meant I saw only 12. Such are the hazards of staging neat yet admirably expansive dance routines (devised by Lee Proud) in a confined space. In true showbiz spirit the remaining cast members have rallied to fill the gap. The result is a smoothly oiled ensemble performance with five-star aspirations, many of which it achieves.

Plews has picked her leading actors wisely. Jamie Sampson plays the high-rolling gambler Sky Masterson as a smart, cocky charmer.

Little wonder that, despite an initial resistance, Amy Bailey’s prim urban missionary Sarah Brown melts. This girl, it turns out, has fire in the belly.

There’s nothing secondary about the performances of James Kermack, cast as the marriage-shy crap game addict Nathan Detroit, or Rebecca Sutherland, whose utterly endearing turn as the psychosomatically flu-ridden nightclub performer Miss Adelaide is fuelled by a huge talent. All four leads are delightful, a quality that spreads like a welcome infection to the rest of the cast and then to anyone lucky enough to be in the audience.

Donald Hutera

5th January 2012