Gielgud Theatre, London – until 30 March 2018
Phone rings, door chimes, in comes an adaptation of Company that subtly but definitively realigns it for a contemporary audience and makes you wonder how you could ever go back to the original as is. Marianne Elliott’s reworking is most notable for the regendering of its lead character – Bobby becomes Bobbie in the extraordinary hands of Rosalie Craig – but the changes it makes filter right down through the show, reflecting the changes in society since the show was written in 1970.
Sometimes it is overt. Amy becomes Jamie here, and Jonathan Bailey’s show-stopping delivery of ‘Getting Married Today’ (seriously, best priest in a show, ever) is underscored by the fact that gay marriage is a thing now.
Less obvious is the switching of roles for Susan and Peter, she’s the professional go-getter and he’s the one who faints at the sight of blood. And even Larry becoming something of a toyboy for Joanne speaks towards an important rebuttal of the kinds of cultural stereotype that have been allowed to persist.
And ultimately, that is the point. All these people (and more) are the friends and acquaintances of Bobbie and are trying to throw her a surprise birthday party who, at the age of 35, can’t decide whether she’s footloose and fancy-free or unmarried and childless or whether the two are even mutually exclusive. As she bounces from encounter to encounter with the married couples in her life, George Furth’s book and Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics somehow find an entirely new lease of life.
Craig revels in the full attention of this sumptuous production, slipping between the sliding boxes of Bunny Christie’s imaginative and inventive design. She’s a fully rounded, complex and all-too-recognisable character, moving through the looking glass like Alice but also making sure that a bedroom session with a ripped flight attendant focuses on her sexual needs. She tears through the score too, the anger that begins ‘Being Alive’ is a terrifically raw surprise.
And then there’s Patti LuPone. A polarising figure to be sure, but her presence here as Joanne elevates the show into one for the ages. The disdain that drips from her ‘mmm-hmmms’, the scorching take on ‘Ladies Who Lunch’, her gameness in pushing furniture around for ‘Side By Side…’, it feels a genuine privilege to see her and she is just magnificent from start to finish.
The nature of the show in its series of vignettes means that the rest of the cast get relatively short shrift, or on the other hand it means that they all take every single moment they have to shine. Alex Gaumond and Jennifer Saayeng are sorely under-used but Bailey is stunning, Mel Giedroyc is a comic delight with partner Gavin Spokes, and Matthew Seadon-Young, George Blagden and Richard Fleeshman drive everyone crazy with a wonderfully re-orchestrated close-harmony group take on that song.
A triumph then, the kind of perfect pre-Christmas luxury treat that everyone should indulge in.
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
Company is booking at the Gielgud Theatre until 22nd December
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