Gielgud Theatre, London ****
Review: Carole Woddis of performance seen Oct 17, 2018:
They don’t come much more glitzy than a new Sondheim production in the West End. That Company is one of Sondheim’s most popular if not THE most popular of his musicals could be gauged by the roar that went up on opening night even before the lights had dimmed.
Marianne Elliott’s long awaited refashioning of Sondheim’s bachelor boy into a 35 year-old-Bridget-Jones-single-girl’s-biological-clock-crisis doesn’t disappoint. At least, not for its most ardent admirers of which I would certainly have counted myself one.
It comes at us like a blast of adrenaline, enclosed once again within a daisy chain of boxed settings.
I say once again as Elliott and her designer, Bunny Christie used a similar design for their 2016 West End production, Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle in which cramped, boxed sets served to push the two protagonists closer in a New York itself famous for its crowded, packed living quarters.
Here, it is perhaps slightly less successful seeming to limit the actors’ movement pushing all the action forward to the front of the stage and diminishing what should be one of the show’s highlights, `Side by Side’ – its celebration of friendship and coincidentally, showbiz camaraderie.
Scenically and aesthetically, however, it allows for a brilliant kind of locomotion, seamlessly moving scenes from apartment to apartment and from interiors to exteriors.
And Elliott’s production does require speed. Breathless in its delivery, it demands – and gets – precision timing and technical skill from its cast.
Nowhere more so than in Jonathan Bailey’s Jamie singing. `Getting Married Today’. Turning Sondheim’s original heterosexual couple into a gay one (with Sondheim’s blessing), Bailey’s Jamie is the epitome of the pre-nuptial, nerve-riddled by somewhat over-dramatic `queen’, at one point seeking comfort and security behind a fridge!
Sondheim’s lyrics, too, demand an impossibly high degree of verbal dexterity – in the original Donmar production, directed by Sam Mendes, Sophie Thompson added her own particular brand of cooky eccentricity.
Bailey delivers the repeated, `I’m not getting married today’ with increasing frenzy and intoxicating appeal.
And that’s the thing about Company.
Sondheim (music and lyrics) with George Furth (book) provide the lot: humour, pathos, an ever spiralling cascade of witty lyrics and plangent tunes. In a tale of the glories and messiness of coupledom and the loneliness of being a singleton in `chummy’ New York, it’s greatness is always the way Sondheim can lace showbiz razamataz with barbed irony.
Here, the latter is provided unforgettably in Patti Lupone’s Joanne. An elderly woman with a younger toy-boy husband who really has seen it all, I doubt we’ll hear equalled the way she sings `Ladies who lunch’ or delivers one-line put downs with such gin (or vodka) soaked contempt. Or self-hatred.
But the main purpose of Elliott’s production is relocating Company to our own time and feminising its central 35-year-old character, Bobby.
Instead of a bachelor man terrified of commitment, Rosalie Craig’s Bobbie becomes a slightly horror-stricken observer of friends marital `bliss’ but one nonetheless pushed into serious consideration by the steady ticking of the biological clock and urge to have family and children.
Elliott’s production needless to say bursts with invention and jokes. To the song, ` Poor Baby’, sung by a quartet of husbands imagining the sadness of Bobbie’s single state, Craig’s Bobbie is seen busy `getting it on’ under the duvet with Richard Fleeshman’s handsome if dumb airline steward, Andy.
There are gloriously timed exchanges too from a jujitsu throwing Mel Giedroyc as Sarah with Gavin Spokes’ Harry, battling it out for marital supremacy. Sondheim’s delicious Andrew Sisters type send-up, `You could drive a person crazy’ gets a delightful make-over as Bobbie’s three male suitors – PJ (George Bladen), Theo (Matthew Seadon-Young and Andy – decry her ability to settle down.
But it is Craig who, naturally, provides the production’s emotional core. And she is a wonder because Craig, who often appears to do very little but express surprise practises the unusual art of stealth and utter relaxation on stage with whatever moment or situation presents itself.
It’s a performance of quietly accumulating power so that when she arrives at her climactic number `Being Alive’, suddenly she unleashes a full throttle to devastating effect. Sung first with a kind of fury, reprised with aching longing for another on whom she can depend and need her `a little too much’, Craig brings Bobbie’s dilemma to a tumultuous close.
Elliott however hasn’t quite finished. In a witty coda, Bobbie punctures the birthday `35’ balloon brought by her friends and blows out a remaining birthday candle with a fire extinguisher. She will, in the end, do it her way and in her own time – triumphantly independently. Bravissima Elliott/Sondheim/Craig et al. A real tonic.
Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Joanne: Patti Lupone
Susan/Priest: Daisy Maywood
Andy: Richard Fleeshman
Jamie: Jonathan Bailey
PJ: George Blagden
Bobbie: Rosalie Craig
Peter: Ashley Campbell
Sarah: Mel Giedroyc
Harry: Gavin Spokes
Paul: Alex Gaumond
David: Richard Henders
Jenny: Jennifer Saayeng
Larry: Ben Lewis
Theo: Matthew Seadon-Young
Bobbie: Jennifer Saayeng
Andy/PJ/Theo: Michael Colbourne
Joanne/Sarah: Francesca Ellis
Paul/Peter/Jamie: Ewan Gillies
David/Harry/Larry: Grant Neal
Jenny/Susan: Jamie Pruden
Other characters played by members of the company
Musical Supervisor and conductor: Joel Fram
Associate Musical Director/Keyboard II: Amy Shackcloth
Assistant Musical Director/Keyboard I: Mark Etherington
Keyboard III: Leo Munby
Violin: Nina Foster
Viola: Polly Wiltshire
Cello: Dom Pecheur
Flute/Alto Sax/Piccolo: Howard McGill
Oboe/Cor Anglais: Huw Clement-Evans
Tenor Sax/Clarinet: Hannah Lawrance
Baritone Sax/Bass Clarinet/Eb Clarinet: Sarah James
Trumpet: Mark White
Trombone: James Adams
Drums/Percussion: Mike Parkin
Double Bass/Bass Guitar: Don Richardson
Orchestral Management: Maurice Cambridge
Director: Marianne Elliott
Choreographer: Liam Steel
Musical Supervisor and Conductor: Joel Fram
Designer: Bunny Christie
Lighting Designer: Neil Austin
Sound Designer: Ian Dickinson for Autograph Sound
Illusions: Chris Fisher
Hair, Wigs and Make-up Designer: Campbell Young Associates
Orchestrator: David Cullen
Dance Arrangements: Sam Davis
Casting Directors: Alastair Coomber CDG and Charlotte Sutton CDG
Fight Directors: Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown for RC-Annie
Voice and Dialect Coach: Charmian Hoare
Associate Director: Miranda Cromwell
Assistant Choreographer: Simone Sault
Dramaturg: Nick Sidi
Researcher: Katy Rudd
An Elliott & Harper production presented with Catherine Schreiber, Grove Entertainment, Jujamcyn Theaters, LD Entertainment, David Mirvish, Aged in Wood Productions/Ricardo F Hornos, Bob Boyett/Tom Miller, Bruno Wang Productions/Salman Al-Rashid, Across the Pond Theatrical/Trio Theatricals, Greek St Productions/Christopher Ketner
Originally produced and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince
First performance of this production of Company at the Gielgud Theatre, London, Sept 26, 2018. Runs to March 30, 2019
Review published on this site, Oct 19, 2018