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2011 New York say they don't know any black people just looks odd, and the show's relentless focus on marriage is quite out-of-date in itself, with one of the women apparently having spent her life defining herself as the wife she intends to be.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.