It’s not always wise to re-imagine a piece of work previously fêted as a great musical but when the composer gives his blessing and that composer is Stephen Sondheim we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Director Marianne Elliot’s gender swapping Company not only works but brings the 1970’s musical bang up to date, adds a whole new dimension and is, dare I say it, an improvement on the original.
Rosalie Craig’s Bobbie hits her 35th birthday and regardless of a really good job, a great apartment and several boyfriends, an awareness of a ticking body clock and whether it’s time to commit looms large especially when surrounded by well-meaning friends, all couples, who have opinions and are not slow in sharing.
One of those couples is Paul (Alex Gaumond) and his fiancé Jamie (Jonathan Bailey). Originally Amy, but in this updated version it makes complete sense that Bobbie would have at least one male couple amongst her friends and without having to change any of the dialogue, Bailey gives an incredibly honest, searing and funny performance of “Getting Married Today”, a man, on the morning of his wedding, suddenly struck by the realisation of his situation, previously denied to him and getting cold feet, albeit temporarily!
Another of Elliott’s great coups is the luring of Broadway royalty Patti LuPone back to the West End stage after 25 years away. The multiple Olivier, Tony and Grammy award winner said she wouldn’t do another musical after her last show War Paint closed in 2017, declaring them too gruelling and exhausting, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with Elliott – and thank goodness!
LuPone’s star quality and portrayal of the acerbic Joanne is sheer class and no musical theatre fan worthy of the name should miss this opportunity to witness her imperious performance, not just of Ladies Who Lunch, but throughout. Everybody rise!
Completing the line-up is Mel Giedroyc as Sarah, George Blagden as PJ, Ashley Campbell as Peter, Richard Fleeshman as Andy, Richard Henders as David, Ben Lewis as Larry, Daisy Maywood as Susan, Jennifer Saayeng as Jenny, Matthew Seadon-Young as Theo and Gavin Spokes as Harry and there’s not a weak link to be found as they master Liam Steele’s clever choreography around a very effective set designed by the Olivier and Tony winning Bunny Christie, who previously collaborated with Elliott on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
From Sarah and Harry’s sitting room, featuring some very funny competitive martial arts, Bobbie’s bedroom with multiple doors and overlapping visitors to subway train carriages carrying Another Hundred People, Company sweeps you along on a journey through New York peppered with wit, irony, regret, bitterness and hope.
Craig’s Bobbie is a complex mix of defiance, confusion, denial, longing and finally an understanding and acceptance of who she is and what she wants and her rendition of Being Alive, is yet another interpretation of what’s gone before but no less effective.
This production is stylish, sublime and simply marvellous. Oh Mr Sondheim, What Would We Do Without You?
Company is at the Gielgud Theatre and has just extended its run to March 30.