Julian Clary - Lap him up

Theatre - Ewan McGregor is good enough to swallow whole, writes Julian Clary

Guys and Dolls


There's something for everyone in the West End these days. A selection of musicals can induce the euphoria of your choice, be it a show featuring rioting miners, comedy Nazis, Lloyd Webber pastiches or the more traditional all-singin'-all-dancin' fodder. Guys and Dolls, directed by Michael Grandage, falls into the last category - of the easy listening and watching variety - but it is compulsive viewing none the less, if that's your bag.

The plot is no more demanding than an episode of Sergeant Bilko, but that does not matter. We swallow the boy-meets-girl nonsense because we want to escape to that simple, nostalgic, make-believe world - but most of all because we want to swallow Ewan McGregor.

His performance is mesmerising - at once brash and sensitive, intelligent and instinctive. In a way, it seems unfair to pitch a movie star's charisma against run-of-the-mill musical theatre types. We don't care what his character, Sky Masterson, does or doesn't do; we just long for him to come back on stage. There are no weak links surrounding him - Jane Krakowski as Miss Adelaide and Jenna Russell as the Salvation Army lady Sarah Brown are outstanding - but McGregor is poetry in motion. He goes a bit "Heather Small" when he sings, which is curious, but maybe he's an M People fan.

In the second half, we make do with a brilliant rendition of "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" led by the charming Martyn Ellis as Nicely Nicely Johnson, but we are only being polite. McGregor proves his real star quality when he reappears, still looking desirable in a Salvation Army uniform. No mean feat. I know because I've tried.

The joy of his performance, and the quality that endears him most to the audience, is his (seemingly) total unawareness of his own "otherness". He's busy acting. We are busy drooling and lapping up the sex appeal. But he is a modest star. He appears to have no idea what we see in him. The stains on the upholstery will be a mystery to him. The woman behind me whimpered and gasped with ecstasy every time he took to the stage. If that's not worth the price of a ticket, I don't know what is.

The teenage boy and girl in front of me, on the other hand, wriggled and scratched a lot, and I wondered, aghast, if the next generation was particularly interested in this quaint Guys and Dolls world, where real emotions were a distant relative and where a dance routine (albeit brilliantly choreographed in this case by Rob Ashford) was invariably the solution. The saucy line "You mustn't squeeze the melon 'til you get the melon home" will mean nothing to chavs heavy-petting at the nearest bus shelter.

That is their loss, I concluded. Culture will evolve as it sees fit, but this particular musical may just have the combination of wit and snappy songs that guarantees longevity. Then I wondered if the ground-breaking Billy Elliot will also seem quaint in a few decades' time. Seeing these two shows within a few days of each other made me appraise my theatrical post-coital feelings. Guys and Dolls loved me and left me, and it was great while it lasted. Billy Elliot stayed with me, left me stirred and shaken.

Yet Guys and Dolls is a stylish, classy production, whatever anyone says. If you are after an evening's entertainment, a no-strings fun time, this is the show for you. It's a pleasure provider. All the acting is admirable, but when McGregor is able to give us even a perfectly timed twinkle of the eye, we spontaneously applaud the miracle of creativity in the hands of an attractive master.

In this show, you have a top-of-the-range cast, set, costumes (apart from the fur stoles in "Take Back Your Mink", which look like somebody has taken a Stanley knife to a Jasper Conran bedspread) and lighting - garnished, what is more, with a film star stretching himself before your very eyes. A night out doesn't get much better than this.

London's West End has so much to offer at the moment. A few years ago, the most you could hope for was a glimpse of Mrs Robinson's minge. Now you can see huge stars glowing with real sweat from their exertions. Don't deny yourself.

Booking on 0870 060 0123

Michael Portillo is away

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