Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: Company

Sondheim is (almost inarguably) the greatest living musical theatre composer. Everyone can hum a tune from one of his shows. My favourite is one of the lesser known ones: Company.

I’ve always wanted to see it live. And when I read this review of the version currently showing in Sheffield (several hours north), I decided to make the trek.

The appeal of Company, to me, is the way that it displaces the idea that musical theatre must have a cohesive narrative in order to work.

Company sits somewhere between a typical musical and a cabaret. It’s not just songs strung together – far from it – it’s an exploration of a theme.

The chosen theme is marriage. Told from the point of view of Crucible’s Creative Director Daniel Evans’ superb Bobby, a Manhattan serial bachelor contemplating settling down as his 35th birthday approaches, Company offers a deconstruction of almost everything about married life. Why do people get married? Why do some unhappy couples keep trying? Is it worth it? Does marriage double or halve a person? Can you be truly happy if you’ve never been in love? Do you have to love each other for marriage to work?

Interestingly, director Jonathan Munby has decided to turn this revival into a period piece, set in the early 1970s (when it was written). This is unexpected because nothing about the show has dated, and most directors set it in the present day in order to demonstrate the universal truths behind Sondheim’s observations about his married peers forty years ago.

And yet, it’s still relatable as a period piece too. From the moment the cast walk down the aisles of the theatre in ghostly lit pairs dissonantly echoing Bobby’s name in the opening number, you know you're in for a treat.The characters are neurotic and engaging. Francesca Annis’ portrayal of husky alcoholic man-eater Joanne is the standout performance – though of course anyone who saw Elaine Stritch in the original cast will tell you that this role usually is.

Overall the show has a feeling of loneliness. Which, for Company, is a very good thing.

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