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Theatre review: Company 
1st-Mar-2011 11:14 pm
merlinavatar
Like I said, two consecutive nights at the theatre to see Merlin stars; after the lead actor last night, tonight the cast regular who doesn't even get his name in the credits: Rupert Young takes on the lead role of Bobby in Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company. There's other familiar faces (to me at least) in the cast - Avenue Q's final West End Kate Monster, Cassidy Janson plays Amy; Laura Main from the Finborough's Rodgers & Hammerstein revivals as Susan, Leigh McDonald from last summer's Assassins as Sarah, Katie Brayben from The Great British Country Fête as April, and, as Larry, Mark Curry proves that presenting Blue Peter doesn't mean you can do anything approaching an American accent. It's hard to know what to expect going in to this; on the one hand the production's had an enthusiastic response, on the other the show features what must surely be Sondheim's most hated song, I've seen people literally¹ foam at the mouth at the very mention of "Being Alive." One thing I'd heard that certainly holds true is that Company isn't the musical to go to if you want to be told a story, instead it's a series of scenes in which Bobby interacts with various married couples he knows, loosely held together by the theme of his 35th birthday party.

Storytelling aside I didn't find it an easy piece to engage with; Young is a very strong leading man but his character isn't just hard to like, he's hard to get a hold on. The aforementioned final song sees him accepting that despite his reservations he really does want to share his life with someone, but elsewhere we've seen him already be rather fixated on marriage, less so on who exactly he'd like to be marrying, so what exactly is the big revelation here? The real strength is in the music, with the songs displaying a lot more variety of style than many other Sondheim pieces. The Act II opener "Side by Side by Side" is probably the standout moment, accompanied by the show's only big dance number (choreographed by Sam Spencer-Lane) which the cast handle so well it's a shame there's not more of them.

Director Joe Fredericks has set the 1970 musical in the present day, which didn't really work for me. iPhones and references to Prozac are one thing but having 30- and 40-somethings in 2011 New York say they don't know any black people just looks odd, and the show's relentless focus on marriage is quite out-of-date in itself, with one of the women apparently having spent her life defining herself as the wife she intends to be. Still, the cast are excellent, the songs are well-performed and the whole production is slick (although was it a deliberate decision by lighting designer Mike Robertson to have a noisy spotlight always whirr into its next position during the quietest part of any given scene?) Even Sondheim fan vanessaw was more subdued about the show overall than she usually is. Some individual moments and songs are absolutely fantastic but the show as a whole is one I found hard to love.

Company by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth is booking until the 12th of March at Southwark Playhouse.

¹not literally
Comments 
2nd-Mar-2011 12:40 am (UTC)
The first time I saw it the spotlight was silent, and then they had some lighting issue when I saw it on Sunday and started using the noisy spotlight, alas! So I think it's a technical issue. Incredibly annoying, though!

I have to say, I absolutely loved this show; Rupert was the most engaging Bobby I've ever seen, because he often is a character that's hard to like, but Rupert made it work for me. I enjoyed it a lot more second time round, too.
2nd-Mar-2011 11:54 am (UTC)
The first time I saw it the spotlight was silent, and then they had some lighting issue when I saw it on Sunday and started using the noisy spotlight, alas! So I think it's a technical issue. Incredibly annoying, though!

I wouldn't have minded so much (noisy lights in small theatres is something you get used to, although it's usually the sound of colour filters changing that's noticeable) but every single time they seemed to leave it be when there was a big song or a shouty scene which would have covered the sound up, then move it as soon as the characters had a quieter moment so it was as distracting as humanly possible. Although speaking of loud noises there was a funny moment last night when an audience member tried to sneak away mid-show at exactly the moment that the "smoke alarm" went off, so it looked like he'd set it off by trying to escape.

I have to say, I absolutely loved this show; Rupert was the most engaging Bobby I've ever seen, because he often is a character that's hard to like, but Rupert made it work for me. I enjoyed it a lot more second time round, too.

Musically it strikes me as one of the strongest Sondheims I've seen (this was my first time seeing this particular show, Vanessa's too) and I agree that Rupert Young made Bobby about as likeable as it's possible to, but there's only so much you can do with the character, he's flaky and uses people, and the scene where he's basically humping April's leg when she's not really that into it was bordering on the Brian McFadden.
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