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The Theatreguide.London Review

Southwark Playhouse   February-March 2011

Sweeney Todd may ultimately be the greater work, but Company (1970, with book by George Furth) is the essential Stephen Sondheim musical, brilliant in itself and the key to understanding and appreciating all hisaccomplishments as composer and lyricist.

If you don't know it, I encourage you to visit this imperfect but generally very successful revival; if you're already a fan, you will find intriguing new colours in director Joe Fredericks' vision of the show.

Company follows a35-year-old bachelor as he observes all the flaws in his friends' marriages but then has to face the question of whether his life is any better.

Fredericks' major innovation is to move Bobby's crisis much earlier than it is usually played, by showing that his confidence in the single life is wavering from the start.

The show opens with an interpolated nightmare sequence, and Fredericks makes new use of one of Sondheim and Furth's innovations - that many of the songs are Brechtian comments on the action rather than part of it.

Here Bobby hears and is shaken by 'The Little Things', 'You Could Drive A Person Crazy' (in a particularly clever restaging) and 'Poor Baby'.

I confess to being something of a purist about this show, and don't particularly like Sondheim's 1995 addition of 'Marry Me A Little', but its inclusion does add to the picture of Bobby changing as he goes along and not just at the end.

On the other hand, I think it is going too far to have him drink and snort coke all through 'Side By Side', evidently to show how desperately he has to work to keep up his cheery front.

But aside from its story, Company also boasts one brilliant show-stopping number after another, and just about every one of them works.

Playing Marta as a hip downtown artist, Michelle Bishop invests 'Another Hundred People' with the knowingness of one who has seen it all, while Cassidy Janson captures all the sadness and comedy of the panicky bride Amy while also mastering the technical challenge of the ultra-high-speed 'Getting Married'.

And the highest compliment I can give Siobhan McCarthy's Joanne is that she channels Elaine Stritch in her icily self-loathing 'Ladies Who Lunch'.

As Bobby, Rupert Young embodies his director's vision of a man fighting a losing battle against self-awareness from the start. He is not the best singer in the cast, but he acts his songs well.

I don't think he captures what Sondheim calls 'an internal monologue of despair and self-deceptive determination' in 'Marry Me A Little'. But I cannot fault his heart-rending performance of the climactic 'Being Alive' in any way.

There may be some hiccups along the way - 'Marry Me A Little' doesn't work, 'Side By Side' is cluttered, the lovely 'Barcelona' barely registers - but the show is great, the director's vision is valid and intriguing, and the most important moments all score with full power. One would be a churl to ask for more.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Company - Southwark Playhouse 2011


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