When I went: 6 November 2018
Location: Gielgud Theatre, London
Performers: Rosalie Craig (Bobbie), Patti LuPone (Joanne), Mel Giedroyc (Sarah), Jonathan Bailey (Jamie), George Blagden (PJ), Ashley Campbell (Peter), Richard Fleeshman (Andy), Alex Gaumond (Paul), Richard Henders (David), Ben Lewis (Larry), Daisy Maywood (Susan), Jennifer Saayeng (Jenny), Matthew Seadon-Young (Theo), Gavin Spokes (Harry)
Creative team: Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics), George Furth (book), Marianne Elliott (director), Bunny Christie (set design), Liam Steel (choreography), Chris Harper (producer)
Approximate price: £100
Special points: Gender-flipping certain characters and dialogue
Best bit: Getting Married Today
If I could change one thing: Slightly less dialogue
Company is an established, well-regarded musical, with several Tony Awards to its name and with songs that have become staples of musical theatre auditions (especially Being Alive). It reminds me of A Chorus Line in that it focuses on a couple of characters at a time and gives the audience a snapshot into their lives; while A Chorus Line focuses on the ambitions and childhood pasts of auditionees, Company focuses on relationships.
There are some great songs, including the wonderfully panicked Getting Married Today, the witty barbershop-trio-style You Could Drive A Person Crazy and the musing, uplifting Being Alive, but there is a little too much dialogue for my taste and some songs I found a little too long (e.g. Side By Side).
In its original form, the subject of a 35-year-old single man not wanting to settle down might not be particularly interesting to a 2018 audience. Gender-flipping this part, and several others, makes for a much more relevant production. The switching of Amy to Jamie to form a gay couple was also a good move – if we are going to watch a musical about the different problems and positives in couples’ relationships, it would be weird to only feature heterosexual ones. I know that Sondheim worked with Marianne Elliott to approve the necessary dialogue and character changes for the gender-flipping, and I’m guessing there might have been some changes to the score to accommodate different vocal ranges too, but I don’t think you would notice any of the seams if you were seeing this musical for the first time.
The staging and direction were surreal (in a very effective way) and at times, trippy. Bunny Christie, the set designer, had previously worked with director Marianne Elliott on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in the same theatre, and Elliott also directed the production I saw of Angels in America; there were some similarities here in the use of neon geometric shapes, minimal costumes, fever-dream imagery (multiple Bobbies at some points) and Alice in Wonderland references where Bobbie’s ’35’ birthday balloons grow and shrink depending on how she is feeling, as does her glass of bourbon.
I had seen several of the performers before and there wasn’t a weak link in this case – Jonathan Bailey (who played Jamie in the production I saw of The Last Five Years) was brilliant as Jamie (gender-flipped from ‘Amy’) and the performance of Getting Married Today was a definite highlight for me. Alex Gaumond, playing his tolerant partner Paul, had previously played Emmett in Legally Blonde, and Mel Giedroyc continues the expansion of her stage career here after starring as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Gavin Spokes, playing Harry, was recognisable after his show-stopping turn as Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls, and although I hadn’t seen Richard Fleeshman onstage before, he was recognisable due to his TV work and beautifully irritating as the pretty but dumb Andy, and worked well with Blagdon and Seadon-Young in You Could Drive A Person Crazy.
One of the obvious draws for the audience was Patti LuPone as Joanne, who was pitch-perfect in The Ladies Who Lunch; however, Rosalie Craig more than held her own even opposite such an established stage actor, and gave a nuanced, funny and engaging performance throughout, deserving of her standing ovation.