Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Company

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by George Furth
MokitaGrit Productions and Danielle Tarento in association with Southwark Playhouse
Southwark Playhouse
(2011)

Company production photo

Southwark Playhouse has selected Company as its first ever musical. It's a terrific choice.

Multi-award winning show Company is witty, clever, thought-provoking, has a wonderful score and some great lyrics including the magnificently sardonic "Ladies Who Lunch". The central plot, or rather story, as there is no plot as such in Company, is a straightforward one. It concerns the still unattached Robert (with the emphasis on 'still'); it is his 35th birthday and, as he sees the different relationships with girlfriends and married friends in his mind's eye, he reassesses his single status life.

Company is a show very firmly rooted in a place and time. It could be nowhere but New York and it is equally entrenched in the 1970s; even with the more recent tweaks to include references to gay relationships there is no doubting this setting. From answer-phones to pot smoking to obsessing about the already rejected institution of marriage to "Does anyone still wear a hat?", Company exudes the 1970s, though it seems at the Southwark Playhouse there has been an attempt at denying the obvious.

This production is hugely enjoyable but under the directorship of Joe Fredericks this forty year old show has had a touch of cosmetic surgery: the intervention is more Botoxed lips than face lift and the effect is patchy. In order to transpose Company to the present-day, gone is the iconic answer-phone tone opening to be replaced, of course, with a mobile phone (and laptop); gone too are the 70s fashion and décor replaced by a mixed bag of non-committal styles, and gone too is some of the sense of it.

What's more, by taking Company out of its natural setting anachronisms don't just sneak in, they announce themselves at the door. Attempts to update the show by sexing it up miss the point; so the question has to be does any of this matter, and, in line with the patchy cosmetic work, the answer is an equivocal yes and no.

Amongst the highlights is the Andrews Sisters pastiche "You Could Drive A Person Crazy" which has a contemporary feel in modern underwear that would make the Sisters blush but is great fun and shows off Sam Spencer-Lane's choreographic skills. Among the lowlights is tacky choreography that detracts and distracts from the number "Sorry-Grateful" (could the same Spencer-Lane have been responsible?). The creatives would have done well here to follow Mr Sondheim's favourite maxim "less is more".

Rupert Young's sweaty, un-groomed Bobby lacks presence and fails to hit the mark vocally and in other ways. This Bobby is difficult to like and physically unappealing and I failed to see why his friends feel such affection or sexual attraction towards him.

What carries this production is the quality of the other performances. Katie Brayben as dippy air stewardess April delivers a terrific comic turn and Michelle Bishop and Poppy Roe play spunky Marta and sensitive Kathy, two girlfriends that Bobby doesn't deserve.

Lists are rarely interesting but in this instance the others deserve a mention so here goes. Greg Castiglioni is vocally strong and endearing as Paul and is well-matched with Cassidy Janson as Amy whose able rendition of the wonderful patter song "Getting Married Today" was marred by unclear amplification.

The married couples are also paired effectively with Leigh Mcdonald and Matthew White (Sarah and Harry) setting the standard high. Julia J Nagle and Steven Serlin as Jenny and David, and Siobhan McCarthy and Adam Venus as divorcing Susan and Peter each provide a different perspective on marriage, none quite so derisive as Laura Main's cynical Joanne married to adoring third husband Mark Curry's Larry. Their relationships reflect the contradictions of "Sorry-Grateful" and their contributions make sense of Sondheim's work even if the setting doesn't.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti