Review – Company, Gielgud Theatre

Friday 12 October 2018

Gender-swapped roles? Aren’t we not just a teensey-weensy bit over them by now?

This is the week that saw our first female Doctor Who. The National Theatre drops the willies willy-nilly, just because it can. Now Stephanie Sondheim has been thrown the ball, dropped it (or them) and has been persuaded to sanction a change for the central character of Bobby to Bobbie in his 1970 musical Company. If it’s to give actresses (at Whingers’ Towers we still like to call them actresses) more work it’s counter-productive, as three of the lady roles in the show are now played by men.

But it wasn’t gender-fluidity that was bothering Philippa in the slightest. It was one of his theatrical bêtes noires, a balloon, there, right there on the poster. He anticipated and feared one might feature in the show.

It does. Or rather they do. But then Company kicks off with a birthday party, so thankfully the speciality balloons are not used as a metaphor, although they came suspiciously close to being used that way by the end. But then again they do lead to the best on-stage balloon gag ever witnessed. And a sharp dig in the ribs was received when one of Philippa’s other tbns, a park bench, trundled onto the stage.

The very, very good news is that none of this mattered one jot. The gender-flip makes such perfect sense that you wonder why no one has done it before and if it will ever be done in its original version again. Marianne Elliot‘s production is not only the best version of the show Philippa’s ever seen he’ll push his neck out a tad further and say that this is one of the best productions of a Sondheim show he’s witnessed. Strap yourselves in and prepare to brace. It’s hyperbole time.

Rosalie Craig carries the weight of the show superbly. Real tears! Three times! She plays Bobbie who is trying very hard not to celebrate her 35th birthday. She’s single and all her friends who are consciously coupled have decided it’s time she settled down. But is partnership and marriage all it’s cracked up to be? Can Bobbie reach a decision on this through the medium of song and dance?

The show is awash with stand out numbers. Special mention must go to the gender-switched “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” winningly performed by George Blagden, Richard Fleeshman and Matthew Seadon-Young. The exhaustingly breakneck “Getting Married Today” has been reconfigured to be about a groom getting cold feet on the day of his gay wedding and is so hilariously delivered by Jonathan Bailey that even the most precious Sondheimite should emerge thoroughly satisfied.

Fleeshman, who we suspect visits the gym occasionally (you could swing a hammock between those nipples), shines again displaying gorgeously well-honed comedy chops in the “Barcelona” number. Further praise should also be heaped on Mel Giedroyc and Gavin Spokes who turn marital sniping into martial fighting. It’s the funniest jiu-jitsu comedy sequence in a musical currently on a West End stage.

Visiting Broadway royalty, Ms Patti LuPone (who once selected Philippa – to his great delight – as her audience “victim” when she played Maria Callas in Master Class) is under no inconsiderable pressure to deliver a sublime “The Ladies Who Lunch”. Her build up to the number seemed to channel Sandra Bernhard and her execution of the song does not disappoint. When she climaxes with the lyric “Everybody rise!” it’s a wonder the audience didn’t obey just out of sheer fear. Poor Patti had to wait for the curtain call for that moment. If she stops the show it’s not because someone in the audience was taking photographs. Though we could have done without those in the audience who considered it appropriate to greet the first few bars of “TLWL” with loud whoops. How very unseemly. How very American.

Parties rarely work on stage but there’s a wonderfully executed drunken party games sequence and a clubbing scene that works supremely well with subtle dance moves that never become embarrassing. Theresa May might consider signing choreographer Liam Steel up immediately.

But then all the elements are gorgeously thought through. Neil Austin‘s lighting of Bunny Christie‘s elegant, crisp and sometimes witty sets of neon-trimmed rooms makes sure it is never less than lovely to look at. One of Philippa’s party thought he spotted references to Alice in Wonderland in Act 1 which were confirmed in Act 2. They thought the whole show might be a dream. This show is certainly as fresh as a Danny. A dream indeed.

Philippa had something of a health and safety panic towards the end when the partygoers depart leaving Bobbie’s apartment with an untended cake covered in lighted candles. Eeek! Can Bobbie’s friends really be as worried about her as the claim to be?

The phone/photography warning at the start of the show is the funniest we’ve heard. It’s worth explaining the musical theatre reference to anyone who doesn’t get it.

Sonia Friedman must be frothing she didn’t produce this. Andrea – who before the show had asked Phillippa which one of us was going to take photos during the show* – was so impressed he even bought a programme for the first time in yonks. Praise does not come much higher than that.

Yes, this was only a preview and yes we’ve already booked to see it again. Read into that what you like.

*If you haven’t heard it this here is the extraordinary Patti LuPone Audience Freakout Remix. Good for her!

Rating (Sometimes five seems a bit stingy)









3 Responses to “Review – Company, Gielgud Theatre”

  1. Susana B. Says:

    I saw it last Friday, and I agree 100% with your review. What a brilliant show!

  2. Graham Says:

    Wonderful – going for a rare second visit, the last time I did that was the original Lady in the Van. I stood next to people in the interval debating whether it was Mel or Sue on stage. I declined to lend them my programme or point them towards a poster as I doubted they could read.

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