Review – Company, Southwark Playhouse

Saturday 19 February 2011

What with the endless 8oth birthday celebrations for Stephen Sondheim, revivals of his shows now seem almost as common as gold stars for The King’s Speech with more to come (celebrations to mark Mr Sondheim’s 81st birthday commence on 22 March).

But the latest production of Company at the Southwark Playhouse is billed as “a major new revival”. So that’s different.

The Whingers quite like Company (with a big C, not each others’ company) because it’s sharp, witty and tuneful. But having seen the Union Theatre’s excellent, but presumably only minor, revival less than two years ago we weren’t sure we were quite ready for another.

But then if we didn’t go it would always be gnawing away at us: how was “The Ladies Who Lunch”?

We won’t concern you with the plot because a) there isn’t much of one and b) we went through all that last time and c) we’re no strangers to indolence.

What we will bother you with though is that Joe Fredericks‘ production has updated things from the seventies to the present day complete with new-fangled devices such as iphones, a powerbook and a snatch of music from someone called Rihanna (who won something at the Brit awards recently along with some other people of whom we had never heard. Don’t worry, we didn’t find our groove; she’s name-checked), but what really tipped us of was a helpful note in the programme explaining the setting “Bobby’s apartment in present-day New York”. Except, it seems Bobby’s bedroom which looked very early nineties to us what with its black ash bed and once-black duvet cover and all. It might be interesting to see designer Paul Wills‘ bedroom.

Anyway, that apart, it’s all rather good.

In fact it’s so well staged that even sitting at one side of the thrust barely troubled us an iota and when did we ever say that? Things are kept moving to include all three sides of audience so we weren’t left sulking like neglected kiddies.

Sam Spencer-Lane‘s choreographic endeavours follow suit especially in the peppy dance number “Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You?”. Mr Spencer-Lane also knows how to work a room.

The cast bring out the best from George Furth‘s episodic book making it more amusing than we remembered. Rather than providing longeurs between the excellent songs the vignettes of marital issues are quite absorbingly played.

There are plenty of very likeable performances so it seems churlish to single people out. But we will.

We were particularly taken with Matthew White and Leigh McDonald‘s karate couple, Steven Serlin and Julia J. Nagle‘s dope smoking partnership, Katie Brayben‘s charmingly dim flight attendant April and Cassidy Janson‘s Amy. Even Rupert Young eventually managed to inject a degree of charm into the normally charmless and unlikeable blank canvas of the central character Bobby.

Gatehouse drowsy chaperone Siobhan McCarthy‘s Joanne channels Bette Davis via Sue Ellen Ewing for a convincingly drunk “The Ladies Who Lunch”. And we should know.

Phil rather oddly related to the 35 year old Bobby’s dilemma despite representing a period of his life lost to the mists of time. Even odder, since the Whingers normally eschew emotion, he admitted to feeling “a little moist” at the end and not just because Andrew had been slopping his coffee around (this was a matinée, you understand: the Whingers were off to “a do” that evening and rather unusually decided to pace themselves).

Even Andrew who can’t abide Bobby and usually sits through the show with a face like a wet weekend quite enjoyed himself. A little more and we would have been able to report that Misery loved Company. Almost.

Rating

8 Responses to “Review – Company, Southwark Playhouse”

  1. Sheena Cox Says:

    What a show cast, choreography and a the modern interpretation of Bobby all very impressive and effective. One to watch and see – make sure you get a ticket if you can. Playing to sell out audience yet again last night. Surely this show should transfer to a bigger theatre. The awakening of Bobby was most touching and left everyone with a feeling of hope. Beg borrow or steal a ticket make sure you see it.

  2. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    Oops! Sorry ma’am.

  3. Dean Porter Says:

    Enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. Was slightly bemused by the fact that Siobhan McCarthy’s Joanne was EXACTLY the same as her v Drowsy Chaperone. Also she played it for comedy which was a shame. Here’s how to do it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khypl3a1hV4

  4. Christine Murray-Watson Says:

    Loved the production. A bit darker
    and more gritty than I remember the original Broadway/West End version but none the worse for that. A real bundle of talent on the small stage in a production that was wholey credible and very moving. Also funny, enjoyable and well worth a visit/ Well done!

  5. Pepe Sue Says:

    It’s always good to see a Sondheim on the stage. Highlights were Amy (for her Bette Midler-esque timing), Paul – for his incredible tenor (his voice sent palpable shivers through the audience as his high notes soared), April, whose acting was cute and loveable, and the choreographed opening number of act two which was exhilarating. In the midst of everything was Bobby who had a sweet voice, different to the rest of the cast. This subtle nice moments when he sang kept the show from becoming an Ethel Merman extravaganza.

    I did come away from the theatre wondering – why do music theatre performers think that by belting every single note of a song, they convey a sense of pathos? (Or are they all just trying to outsing each other and be number one in the spotlight)?

    It was evident tonight that each and every one of the performers were natural stage actors, and could sing well. And belting is a techique that not everyone can do, so kudos that they all seem to have mastered it. The trouble to me was, as good as their acting was, as soon as they started singing, they lost a little bit of credibility because the emotion of the song didn’t match what they were doing with their vocals.

    Surely a good musical director would have suggested to them that they need to save the strident belt for the ‘money’ notes, and not keep ramming it down the audience’s throats for every single note of every song!?

    And why did the director think it was necessary to have a bunch of women in their underwear for ‘you could drive a person crazy.’ Slightly pervy. But maybe that’s what the blue rinse brigade want when they come to see these kinds of things.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s