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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.


Company
YouTube   Summer 2020

This 2006 Broadway production, recorded for US Public Television, is inventive and even re-inventive, one of the best versions of this most-Sondheimish of Sondheim musicals since the original.

British audiences may not recognise many in the cast – star Raul Esparza is best known, even to Americans, for a running role on one of the Law And Order variants – but they will be happy to be introduced to them.

And British theatregoers may well recognise the signature style of director John Doyle, casting actor-singers who also play instruments, so they serve as the onstage orchestra, carrying their instruments around in character and accompanying each other and sometimes themselves.

That staging device proves particularly apt for Company, which calls for the secondary characters to double as a commenting chorus, and the sight of instrumentalists moving about the stage contributes to the show's everybody-watching-everybody-else atmosphere.

It also allows for some clever and even insightful twists on audience expectations. In You Could Drive A Person Crazy the three girls carry their saxes as they sing, with the boop-boop-a-doops replaced by saxophone bleats. The shock moment in Side By Side when Bobby realises he has no partner is set up by short instrumental duets rather than dance steps.

And when Bobby sits down at a piano to accompany himself in Being Alive, all the cultural weight of lonely saloon singers supports the dramatic moment.

Belated reminder: Bobby, a 35-year-old bachelor, observes all the imperfections of his friends' marriages, but is then forced to examine his own single life. And Raul Esparza is the most observant and note-taking Bobby I've ever seen, very much to the show's betterment.

Rather than being blithely detached through most of the evening only to have a shock epiphany near the end, Esparza shows Bobby's self-satisfaction wavering almost from the start. The video version's close-ups help us see him seeing and thinking about both the good and bad he sees around him.

Almost alone among previous Bobbys he is aware of the chorus, and reacts to the challenges of The Little Things and other commentary numbers.

This may be one reason why Marry Me A Little, which was added to the score after the first production and has always seemed out of place to me, works better here than ever before – it is appropriate and dramatically satisfying that this Bobby should let us see, as the Act One climax, how far he's come and how far he has yet to go.

It's not a one-man show. Though Barbara Walsh, like every other actress-singer playing sophisticate Joanne, can only confirm that she is not Elaine Stritch, Walsh comes closer than anyone else but Stritch in capturing the disappointment in herself that generates Joanne's attacks on others, and her Ladies Who Lunch is as powerful as you're ever likely to see.

Angel Desai's Marta is less hippie and more adopted-New-Yorker, transforming Another Hundred People from mere patter song to a slightly mournful blues. And, speaking of patter songs, Heather Laws goes delightfully crazy in Getting Married, while Elizabeth Stanley raises April from stock dumb blonde to a figure of legitimate sympathy.

An excellent Company to see as your first or twentieth.

Gerald Berkowitz



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Review of  2006 Broadway Company 2020