Company at the Gielgud
Posted on 28 November 2018
This gender reversal of the original 1970 musical comedy, Company, which features music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by George Furth, is perfect for the post-Sex and the City era and sums up exactly what it’s like to be a single woman in her thirties.
Bobbie (Rosalie Craig) is 35, her birthday full of candles that refuse to blow out, coupled-up friends and a wish to settle down. But does she really want to, or does she just feel that she has to? Bobbie finds herself to be the third wheel to her coupled-up friends and the audience is left wondering whether they truly want her to find love. As Bobbie, Craig is striking with her red dress and red hair and she has a real command of the stage. When she sings, you get a sense of true passion and raw emotion in her voice, which provided clarity in a production that can be confusing at times. And by this, I mean the plot is somewhat non-linear and it also isn’t always clear how Bobbie actually knows these people in her life, though she seemingly keeps them around for the ‘company.’ However, the dynamic works with some couples better than others, like with Mel Giedroyc (who may shock with her incredible acting chops) and Gavin Spokes (fantastic in Quiz), both of whom seem disappointingly underused considering their exquisite talent for the stage. Jennifer Saayeng (as Jenny) and Richard Henders (as David) both get some key scenes but not much else and they weren’t as energetic as gay couple Jamie and Paul (played by Jonathan Bailey and Alex Gaumond).
It is interesting that the 1996 West End production cast Adrian Lester as Bobby, which at the time felt extremely bold. Now with the revival, it appears that Sondheim’s Company has taken a slight step back. Sure, Bobby is now female while Amy is now Jamie (the hysterical groom who doesn’t want to commit) in a same-sex relationship, but there seems to have been a fear to make this production as progressively bold as its 1996 counterpart. In the original, before the gender swap, the male Bobby talks about his own same-sex experiences with Peter. In this version, Peter (Ashley Campbell) is merely Susan’s husband and there is a brief flirtation with Susan (Daisy Maywood fresh from her 2017 Promises, Promises appearance), but it might have been nice to see an all-round, fully-fledged pansexual Bobbie. There are some nice touches, though; the dynamic between Joanne (Patti LuPone who is brilliantly cast but not utilised enough) and Bobbie works much better, especially when Joanne, a much older woman, glares at Bobbie with a look of envy in her eyes.
Unfortunately, for me, many of the songs felt dated; the modern story and setting contrasted with the 1960s style songs and you can see this in the contrast between Bobbie’s modern life and her desire to just be a housewife. This clash of eras makes it feel like the show should have been set in the 1960s, and I wonder why we didn’t see a 1970s, ‘women’s lib’ Bobbie. But don’t get me wrong, the songs are still marvelously performed, particularly ‘Not Getting Married Today’, ‘Marry Me a Little’ and ‘The Ladies who Lunch’, which really show off the pipes of both Craig and LuPone and leaves no doubts why they’re the stars of the show. But the real kudos should go to Marianne Elliott and Chris Harper, who have brought this musical back to the stage.
As far as the set is concerned, the neon blocks really suit the musical’s series of sketches, which, as already mentioned, seem to reject linearity. Additionally, the live band brings a musical gravitas and it feels strange to see something quite stripped back on the West End stage. But despite its history, this is not your standard musical. Though not as daring as I had hoped, it still feels bold and I am really glad I got the opportunity to see it.
Shanine Salmon was a latecomer to theatre after being seduced by the National Theatre's £5 entry pass tickets and a slight obsession with Alex Jennings. She is sadly no longer eligible for 16-25 theatre tickets but she continues to abuse under 30 offers. There was a market for bringing awareness that London theatre was affordable in an era of £100+ West End tickets – Shanine’s blog, View from the Cheap Seat, launched in April 2016, focuses on productions and theatres that have tickets available for £20 and under. She is also quite opinionated and has views on diversity, pricing, theatre seats and nudity on stage. Her interests include Rocky Horror, gaming, theatre (of course) and she also has her own Etsy shop. Shanine tweets at @Braintree_.