Gielgud Theatre, London – until 30 March 2019
Where were you when you found out Meghan Markle was pregnant? Me, I was on a train – when am I not? – and I found out thanks to the man sitting opposite me’s delightful observation that it was a good thing she and Prince Harry had got on with things because “she’s knocking on a bit”. Logging on to Twitter, the number of ‘how difficult is it to conceive at 37?’ articles that crossed my horizons in the next few days was ridiculous.
The pressure on single women in our thirties, of which I am one, to do the marriage and babies thing – or explain in detail, repeatedly, and to literally anyone who might ask, why we’re not – is colossal. And of course, for thirtysomething women who do want to do the marriage and babies thing, of which I am definitely not one, the pressures of time and biology are even colossal-er. On the other side of the gender coin, what pressures does a thirtysomething single man face? Struggling to think of any right now.
All of the above is my way of pointing out why Marianne Elliott’s new and updated production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company is so utterly necessary. And I use the word necessary very deliberately. As I’m sure you know, unless you’ve been living under some kind of rock, the big update here is to gender swap the lead role. Hence, the show is now anchored by Bobbie, a 35-year-old single woman surrounded by married friends desperate to get her to settle down. Company isn’t a show I knew very well before this production, so all I can say about this and the other accompanying gender swaps (including the introduction of a same-sex couple) is that I cannot imagine it the other way around. In 2018, who cares about a single 35-year-old man? Why should we invest anything in that guy?
Having now properly discovered it, I can safely say that I love this show. I think it may be my favourite Sondheim; so complex, so unashamedly grown up, so funny and demanding the absolute best of its performers and creatives. The music and lyrics are just brilliant. Name me a better (and for me, in this production, more relatable) musical song than ‘Being Alive’. I’ll wait… George Furth’s book is a joy. Funny and sad and, with the 21st-century updates, utterly compellingly relevant. And it’s very rare to see a show with so many main characters, all of whom are actually properly developed and rounded.
This production is something truly special too, and not just because of the updates. Director Elliott is an actual genius and Company is as good as anything else she’s ever done, if not better. It’s got such life and heart. Her conception of the story as a modern Alice in Wonderland (after all, much of it is happening in Bobbie’s head) is wonderful.
She completely gets the story she’s telling too, as evidenced not just in all the gender swapping but also in the way it’s told, the way everyone else treats and talks to Bobbie. Possibly my favourite scene is where a group of married, middle aged men sing about how worried they are about Bobbie in her bedroom whilst an astonishingly attractive cabin crew chap goes down on her. As visual metaphors for being a single woman in your thirties go, they don’t come much better.
Bunny Christie’s design is, reliably, superb. Everything is done in a series of boxes to separate the various couples, and Bobbie, and to elevate the down the rabbit hole vibe. It looks so cool, especially with Neil Austin’s gorgeous neon-accented lighting, and it technically works so well too. Liam Steele’s choreography is witty and eye-catching and unmistakably modern. And, for I think the first time ever, I want to shout out to the casting directors. Alastair Coomer and Charlotte Smith have done an amazing job assembling a team of actors who are not just super talented but 100% right for their parts. There are some casting decisions here that made me raise an eyebrow initially (Mel Giedroyc primarily to be honest) but in every case the exactly right person is in the exactly right role.
And Jesus H Christ what a cast this has led to. There is an absolutely insane amount of talent on show on this stage and the entire cast is pretty much faultless. Without question, this is the best cast in London right now by, like, a lot. Rosalie Craig is a sublime Bobbie, exactly the right balance of vulnerability and sass, and with a voice to absolutely die for. Her Being Alive gave me literal goosebumps. Patti LuPone, queen of fucking everything, is exactly as good as you want her to be and then a little bit more, doing enjoyably bitchy and actually just a bitch with equal icon-ness. In a show in which everything is A Moment, Jonathan Bailey delivers the Moment of the night as (gender swapped) Jamie with a mind bendingly good Getting Married Today, my personal highlight of the whole show. Richard Fleeshman is an adorable and surprisingly touching (gender swapped – thank god because as a female part this would have seemed just awful in 2018) Andy. Mel Giedroyc and Gavin Spokes are a lovable but complex joy as Sarah and Harry. I could go on and on and on. Everyone on that stage is amazing.
This production of Company is stunning. More than that, it’s important. It’s, genuinely, necessary. Theatrically, it feels like a proper moment; event theatre at it’s very best. Get your ticket immediately.
Company is at the Gielgud Theatre until 30th March.
I saw this one in preview and paid £25 to sit in G14 in the Grand Circle (which is actually a great seat for the price).