The West End is starting to play host to a collection of musical theatre productions which celebrate a variety of women. This includes shows such as Six, Caroline or Change, Tina Turner the Musical and the incoming productions of Waitress and 9 to 5. I least expected for this celebration to extend to the revival of the musical Company. Company, a Sondheim classic, which was originally written to centre around a male bachelor, Bobby. But in this revival, it centres around a single lady, Bobbie. And it works, brilliantly. The show, written almost 50 years ago now, provides a sophisticated insight into the modern-day woman and feels as fresh as if it was written today.
In this revival, we follow Bobbie, a woman enjoying the single life in New York City with her lovers and her good and crazy friends. On her 35th birthday, she is acutely aware of the fact that she isn’t married yet. The show doesn’t have a conventional story arc, but is rather a collection of scenes. In this, we see how uniquely fascinating but also imperfect monogamous relationships can be. As Bobbie navigates her way through the separate scenes, encased in these illuminated boxes, we get to explore this central question of whether she is ready get married along with her.
It was daring of director Marianne Elliot and producer Chris Harper to think to switch the genders of some the roles in the show. Gender bending is not new but can be controversial. At its worst, it can feel gimmicky and an insult the original. But at its best, as showcased in this revival, it can peel our away our prejudices for how to interpret texts and help us to examine a topic anew. With just a few tweaks and Sondheim’s blessing, this production brings a contemporary feel to this show that not many would have anticipated.
One of my favourite scenes is actually one without any dialogue. After a one night stand, Bobbie sees how her life may unfold in a marriage setting with three different men. The scene is precisely co-ordinated so that these three separate paths are interwoven. It succeeds in conveying the monotony and repetition in marriage that we are all fearful of and it was executed in such a captivating way.
I think what makes this one of the best productions in the West End right now is the combination of the rich Sondheim score, the outstanding cast and just how comedic it is. Rosalie Craig (Ragtime) storms the stage and holds her own as Bobbie among many theatre heavy weights, including Patti Lu Pone (War Paint). Some of my favourite scenes are those when the ensemble cast comes together, particularly in the numbers such as ‘Side by Side’. Another standout was Jonathon Bailey in his hilarious performance of ‘Not Getting Married today’, a number which has the second most words per minute of a musical theatre song ever (comes in just behind Hamilton’s ‘Guns and Ships’ in first place). I’d definitely say that this show is for those who seek out an exciting night at the theatre and you need not have seen or known of the original beforehand to enjoy it.
Company is running at the Gielgud Theatre until 30th March 2019.