“fresh, funny, modern”
Seeing Company when we did, whilst an amazing experience, was not what we had planned on doing! Since its announcement of returning to the West End with a stellar (and gender-switched cast) and then its opening for previews, I had been dying to see it. With some friends, we had made rough plans to see the show around December time but when plans to see The Jungle fell through on the 14th October, we ended up getting day-seats for Company instead! We simply rocked up at the theatre around 10.30am to enquire what seats (if any) they had left for the matinee for £25 and we were in luck!
As I said, when I heard about the gender swapping of this show, I was amazed, shocked, excited. It’s something I’ve not heard that has been done much in shows before and with a show such as Company, I thought it would bring such an interesting twist to the show. With themes such as marriage, loneliness, relationships and succeeding in single life, looking this from a woman’s perspective – instead of the originally written man’s perspective – is genius in modern times. In addition to the modernity of the show through reflecting some parallels with feminist ideology is the changing addition of a homosexual couple. The chnage of the female character “Amy” to the male character “Jamie” is fresh and up-to-date. Before I had even seen the show I was excited to see it and to see more of Marianne Elliot’s amazing direction.
Speaking of Elliot‘s amazing direction, I need a moment to discuss the set. This “Alice in Wonderland” style was fantastically simple yet fantastically effective. The show – to my understanding – was a set of experiences all happening predominantly in Bobbi’s head, and the way in which the set was put together in each new scene to establish this narrative was poignant and imaginative. The fact that, for example, at the start of the show Bobbi isn’t where her friends see her standing but instead is behind the crowd and looking out into the audience, tells us that she isn’t really present in the narrative. Similarly, as the balloons for her 35th birthday change size, this tells the audience that the idea of turning 35 is becoming a bigger deal in her head and has more impact on her than when the balloons were normal size. The number 35 is continually echoed throughout the set, with it being on all the doors in one scene and anchors the idea that the narrative takes place in Bobbi’s head rather than in real life. The whole set was superbly clever.
Rosalie Craig‘s performance as the modern twist on an old character, Bobbi (formerly Bobby) is faultless and I am struggling to picture the musical with a male, instead of a female, lead now. She portrays Bobbi as a likable and relatable character, battling with not wanting to get married but also wanting to at the same time, as she examines her five other couples in their relationships. Throughout the show, Rosalie Craig makes her character appear relatively well put-together and level-headed despite being the odd one out: a red blob in a relatively colourless set of others. This appearance of coolness changes when she proposes to her gay friend Jamie and then realises how much impact her married friends have had on her to make her want companionship. During the song “Marry Me A Little” we see Bobbi’s apparent hard shell crack and by the final number “Being Alive”, we see Bobbi let the audience into her real desires, in the same way that Bobbi longs to let a companion into her life. She delivers an effortless and faultless performance. I was beyond excited to hear her sing the final number “Being Alive” that I didn’t quite wish the show away, but I was itching to hear it. Needless to say, she did not let me down.
Patti LuPone hardly needs commenting on with her reputation most certainly being lived up to in this production. This West End and Broadway star gives a witty, sarcastic and brilliant edge to this production, performing a stellar version of the song “Ladies Who Lunch” toward the end of the show. LuPone gives more characterisation with an eyebrow raise and glance at the audience than I thought humanly possible and her stage presence is something of brilliance. The fact the Bobbi has been gender-swapped also, I think, alters Lupone‘s character slightly. While this may not have been the intention, nor what other audience members got from the show, I interpreted the relationship between Joanne and Bobbi as a close one but one where Joanne warns Bobbi that Bobbi could become like Joanne if she isn’t careful. I think this gives Joanne’s character a higher sense of authority, which LuPone is excellent at portraying with a cigarette in one hand and vodka stinger in the other.
Other notable performances come from Jonathan Bailey playing the role of Jamie, and Gavin Spokes as Harry.
Prior to seeing Company, I had listened to the soundtrack a little and one song that had really stuck out to me was “Getting Married Today” – originally sung by the character Amy. The song is hilariously funny even just hearing it, without even beginning to add the physical aspects, and it is sung at very high-speed. Needless to say, I was very excited to see it performed, especially when I realised Jonathan Bailey would be singing it as a homosexual character, rather than in its traditional hetreosexual way. I saw Jonathan Bailey play the role of Jamie in The Last Five Years with Samantha Barks two Decembers ago and he really blew me away then, and this performance was another stellar one from him. He was brilliantly funny, lovable and I can assure you that the entire auditorium of the Gielgud theatre was hanging on his every word and not able to take their eyes off him during this song. The whole scene that takes place before what would be Paul and Jamie’s wedding is perfectly constructed from start to finish and was my favourite scene in the whole show. Following his performance, Bailey has been put up for a “Broadway World” Award under the category “Best supporting actor in a musical” and I am not in the least bit surprised – his performance was fresh, funny, modern and unique. Good luck to him in the awards.
My second stand-out performance was Gavin Spokes who played the role of Harry. While characters Harry and Sarah initially appear to be in a “normal” and happy relationship, as Bobbi spends more time with them, she realises the cracks that aren’t always so easily present. Gavin Spokes‘ performance of the song “Sorry-Grateful” really moved me in ways that I wasn’t expecting; his voice was pure and delicate yet strong in its motive and driving the narrative in Bobbi’s head of debating companionship and marriage or continuing her solo path. The final note was held beautifully and really took my breath away. I thought throughout, Gavin gave a wonderful performance.
Gavin Spokes, accompanied by Mel Giedroyc as the role of Sarah, worked brilliantly together to get the audience laughing at the beginning of the show. Their karate scene reminded me of my brother and I “play-wrestling” as children and was highly amusing. They’re cheeky glances, swigs of alcohol and bites of brownie that they were hiding from the other were brilliantly choreographed and timed to have the audience in stitches.
One thing that I thought was really refreshing about Company in general that I really enjoyed was its comedy. As the show was generally about life, the humour was brought through in the ways in which we enjoy and find fun in everyday life and was therefore highly relatable. For example, the opening to Act 2 was Bobbi’s big birthday party planned by her five married couple friends which was thoroughly enjoyable and hilarious to watch. The karate scene was great, as were the one-liners, the “Not Getting Married” scene and many more that had the audience laughing in relatable ways – rather than relying on slapstick.
It is a shock to remember that this relatable, fresh and modern musical with ingenious sets and resonating messages was written in the 1970s. The reason, I think, that this musical is so timeless is that it discusses themes that have always been prominent in human life, no matter the time period. My understanding of the show was potentially slightly warped, but the main messages I understood included themes of adulthood, loneliness and companionship, marriage, and what is important to each of us in life. As Bobbi is so clearly positioned as the “odd one out” of the group – down to her being single and her striking red costume in comparison to the other paler colours, it made me wonder why she is considered the odd one out? It made me question the social regularities of marriage and companionship.
In an age of strong men AND women, why do we still fuss over relationships and being single or not? While this new production portrayed Bobbi as a strong independent woman, it also opened my eyes to the importance of company in every single person’s life; no matter how strong or independent we may be, at the end of the day we all want someone to remind us what it’s like to be alive, crowd us with love and support us (“Being Alive”). In addition, while it may traditionally have been a social convention, many of us still want someone to love and marry (“Marry Me A Little) and that’s why I think this show is timeless.
The show has recently announced its extended booking period and is now booking until March 2019 at the Gielgud Theatre in London.