Rosalie Craig & Patti Lupone in
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
directed by Marianne Elliott
until 30 March 2019
Review by Clive Burton
Frustrated by his inability to find a regular partner on the New York dating scene, Bobby is approaching his 35th birthday with considerable trepidation: confused about his prospects and goaded by a circle of well-meaning friends to ‘settle down’, he mentally re-lives his life in a series of vignettes that place his circumstances - real and imagined - into perspective.
That’s the gist of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s 1970’s musical, Company: a Tony-garlanded work that enjoyed a much-lauded run at the time and firmly established the composer/lyricist with his first major hit.
Some 50 years later, very different times have seen women gain greater prominence in many fields and women’s issues coming to greater prominence in the theatre and elsewhere.
By changing the gender of its primary protagonist to Bobbie, a woman, Company is able to embrace such issues as marriage, career and family from the perspective of a successful 35-year-old woman.
To accommodate such change of standpoint - and let’s be quite clear from the outset - Bobbie is not gay - would have proved a step too far for Sondheim, who sanctioned the current changes needed to bring this production to fruition.
Several other gender changes become necessary by the inventive Director, Marianne Elliott, who has switched some of the emphases around, changing Jenny’s role from housewife to fully-fledged career woman supporting her family and stay-at-home husband/father, David, being among them.
Rosalie Craig makes a most likeably believable Bobbie as she weaves in and out of the detritus of her friends’ relationships in her attempts to discover what makes them tick, and appropriates any tricks she can learn to improve her chances in the romance stakes. She seizes every singing opportunity with both hands - most notably in her feel good final solo ‘Being Alive’.
Bobby’s three casual original girlfriends - Marta, Kathy and air Hostess April – here become male characters in a shift which not only aligns their attitudes more with contemporary male behaviour, but also sets the scene for Bobbie’s ‘Someone is Waiting’ that pinpoints the nub of her relationship dilemmas.
It also facilitates a hilarious set-piece with a nightmare scenario that (literally) brings all her relationship fears to a head as multiple Bobbie characters fall simultaneously pregnant to Andy, her buff cabin crew lover, running amok in her apartment as a wake-up call leading into the ‘morning after’ brilliance of ‘Barcelona’.
Scenes speed swiftly from New York apartment exteriors and interiors in Bunny Christie’s clean-cut designs that establish the life-style lived by Bobbie and her cosmopolitan circle of friends, whose solicitous concern for the welfare of their unmarried friend can sometimes border on the prurient as they cajole her into finding the partner she needs to find fulfilment in the Company she craves.
Bobbie’s journey is ultimately about measuring her own needs against those of her friends and seeing how each measures up or falls short of any given yardstick - gay or straight, monogamous or promiscuous despite the price required.
Stacked with vintage Sondheim, the show has Tony-Award-winning credentials with numbers like the scene-setting ‘Company’ (and its ominous orchestral reminder of the ticking clock motif in David Cullen’s excellent orchestrations, brought punctiliously to life under the baton of Joel Fram); the bitter-sweet ‘Sorry-Grateful’; the tongue-twisting ‘Another Hundred People’ (with Liam Steel’s choreography providing a vibrant snapshot of NYC above and below ground). And the virtuoso ‘Getting Married Today’ - here transposed from a heterosexual couple to Jonathan Bailey’s nervous gay Jamie and his sanguine soon-to-be-wed partner, Alexander Gaumond’s Paul is a true vocal tour de force.
The gender reversal of roles inevitably works smoothly and seamlessly, often affording additional pleasures over the original: changing the all-girl Andrews-sisters vibe to an all-male trio (featuring George Blagden as PJ, Richard Fleeshman as Andy, and Matthew Seadon-Young as Theo) brings an unexpected gentleness to the masculine harmonies that is startling to those who already know the show and will delight newcomers with the exceptional richness of its musicality in ‘You Could Drive a Person Crazy’.
Although not quite as buzzily contemporary as Jamie - next door on Shaftesbury Avenue - Sondheimites will find all they need to delight them in a show which has the added frisson of an outstanding star performance from Patti Lupone in ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’.
I’ll drink to that!
Dates: 26 September - 22 December 2018
Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm,
Thursday and Saturday at 2.30pm
Tickets: from £25