‘Aaahh, Sondheim! It must run forever’: COMPANY – West End ★★★★★

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews, Ticket recommendations by Libby PurvesLeave a Comment

Gielgud Theatre, London – until 30 March 2018

If you’re going to mess about with a classic but slightly dated Sondheim musical,  be sure to do it brilliantly. Do it like Marianne Elliott. Get the great Stephen himself on-side, ask for a few new lyrics, then find a throbbing nerve in the western zeitgeist and give it a good twang. Oh, and be sure to choreograph the funniest seduction, wildest party, and most showstopping display of wedding nerves on any stage anywhere. And while you’re at it, give Patti LuPone a showstopping chance to snarl out ‘Ladies Who Lunch’.

Got it? That’s Company, with an enchanting lead, a peerlessly sharp company, bangin’ band, and any number of weird sliding neon-framed rooms by Bunny Christie. Company is the comeback kid, another demonstration that Britain is natural Sondheim country: all dry wit and laughing resignation.

Elliott’s idea was to take the master’s 1970 tale of 35-year-old Bobby, whose married friends all think he ought to commit and settle down, but who all in their way are either messed up, patronising or endearingly deluded. But make him Bobbie, because it’s 2018 and we have had the age of the female clock-ticking Singleton, from Jessica Parker to B.Jones. Then neatly reverse a few other genders in the process. Brilliant: because while a bachelor midlifer is actually a bit ho-hum-so-what, a woman with those fading ovaries and atavistic cultural fear of the shelf is already a walking dramatic crisis. Or may seem so to the dear well-meaning friends. And in the age of gay marriage and heterosexual civil-partnering, it’s coolly up to date.

And goodness, it’s funny and sharp. Rosalie Craig is perfect as Bobbie, aware of the big 35 – eventually spelt out by the gang in 10ft balloons – but gentle, sane, reasonable, well-liked and not lonely. Until the pressure makes her so and she must wonder if “someone is waiting….” She sings like a lark, is immensely moving in ‘Marry Me a Little”, and joins in the gloriously witty choreography (the party scene ensemble contains at least six of the most excruciating adult ‘fun’ games you have ever dodged). Yet she is almost better in her reaction moments, while the peerlessly funny cast members display the joy and horror of the married state.

There is a Jil-jitsu match (shared hobbies, o the horror) with Gavin Spokes and Mel Giedroyc risking their spines nightly, and a series of vignettes of the sheer oddity of couples, marvellous evocation of their appalling patronising nosiness about poor poor Bobbie: hilarious as the whole cast wander through her bedroom pitying her just as she gets it on with dim-date Andy. And the deathless anthem of bridal nerves , originally female, is given to gay Jamie: Jonathan Bailey hoping to get away from smiley Paul with a despairing “Perhaps – I’ll collapse – in the apse” while a terrifying celebrant bursts for every cupboard in sight.  Bailey steals the show.

Patter songs,  scat jazz, ballads, glittering lyrics and elegant musical jokes…aaahh, Sondheim!  It must run forever. And  curiously, it is as comforting a what-the-hell message to us 38-year-wed fogies as to any singleton.  Glorious.

 

Box off. delfontmackintosh.co.uk. 0344 4825138. To 30 March

Rating 5.

Libby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
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Libby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.