Imagine undergoing gender reassignment surgery just to see what happens, asks Cary Gee.
This is essentially what multi-award winning director Marianne Elliot must have been thinking when she took on Stephen Sondheim’s seminal musical Company.
Originally staged on Broadway in 1970, which makes this musical one of the first to deal seriously with such adult themes as love, lust, commitment and marriage only slightly older than I am, Company has been role-reversed and re-booted. Bachelor Bobby is now Bobbie (Rosalie Craig), a warmer, more personable (although equally single) lady who can hear the ticking of her biological clock above the din generated by a City of Strangers.
Her married friends (the titular Company) throw her a surprise birthday party. The candles on her cake resolutely refuse to blow out and, despite the fact she is only 35, serve as a metaphor for wishes that remain unfulfilled. The fact that 35 is cause for such alarm dates a piece that is otherwise very much of our time.
“You’re scared she’s starting to drift away – and scared she’ll stay,” sings one of Bobbie’s married friends in Sorry – Grateful, perfectly capturing the panic that begins to set in to singletons of a certain age.
Of course, changing the gender of the protagonist creates a domino effect that produces intentionally hilarious results. Never more so than when Bobbie’s three paramours, originally cast as a kind of pastiche doo wop girl band now combine to sing You Could Drive a Person Crazy. The boys are astonishing although as marriage material they clearly lack potential, at least as far as Bobbie with an “ie” is concerned!
There is no real narrative to Company. Instead the whole is presented as a series of vignettes, in no particular chronological order. The first act highlight of these is undoubtedly Not Getting Married Today. Originally sung by Amy, it is a fiendishly wordy riposte now performed by Jamie (the faultless Jonathan Bailey) who is so worried about his forthcoming nuptials to fiancé Paul (“People will think I’m pregnant!”) that he eventually shoves the priest (the utterly brilliant Daisy Maywood) into the refrigerator and slams the door shut.
The parade-like Side by Side by Side remains one of Broadway’s most life-affirming show tunes but the real reason, of course, for casting the flesh-on-bones Broadway legend that is Patti Lupone is to sing The Ladies who Lunch. “Does anyone still wear a hat?” asks Patti, bitter as the sleet that’s falling outside on Shaftesbury Avenue, and twice as acerbic. Lupone literally gets to speak the first words of this show. You are always left thinking this particular actor has spoken the last word too!
That’s not to say that the entire cast, which includes Mel Giedroyc (as pal Sarah) and the entirely lovely Ashley Campbell (as Peter) don’t all play their parts to perfection.
Bunny Christie’s design, a series of cell-like rooms into which Elliot often crams the entire cast, creates a claustrophobic Alice in Wonderland version of Manhattan through which Bobbie must navigate a series of sliding doors, only some of which are physical, and, like the Duchess in Alice, you sometimes find yourself thinking that, “If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does”, but then we would miss out on two of the most glorious hours currently to be had in the West End.
Company is at the Gielgud Theatre in London until 30 March
As part of the Albert Kennedy Trust’s 30th anniversary celebrations the charity, which provides safe housing, support services and mentoring to young LGBT+ homeless people, has teamed up with the producers of Company for a special fundraising gala performance.
Tickets for the fundraiser, which will take place at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s west end on 12 February are on sale now and all money raised will directly benefit the 24 per cent of young vulnerable homeless people who identify as LGBT+. Ticket holders will not only get to see the hottest musical in the West End, but will have the opportunity to meet with the stars of the show at an exclusive after-show party. So if you fancy hobnobbing with the legendary Patti Lupone, or meeting the devilishly handsome Jonathon Bailey, who has been at the forefront of organising the gala, then book your tickets now at https://www.akt.org.uk/Event/benefit-performance-of-company
For more information about the vital work performed by the Albert Kennedy Trust go to www.akt.org.uk