Company / music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by George Furth
Gielgud Theatre, Elliott & Harper Productions / directed by Marianne Elliott
Seen on January 3, 2019
Score: 5 / 5
Few things on the stages of London at the moment can rival Marianne Elliott’s endlessly sleek, nimble, and original Company. From awe-inspiring performances to a constantly shape-shifting set, from its intelligent and thought-provoking gender swaps to a virtuosic choreography, everything about this spellbinding show smells of heartfelt finesse. It’s fun, funny, and festive. Not to mention all the hard questions it asks of its characters—and of us.
This is a work driven not by a linearly unfolding and coherent story, but rather by a series of episodic encounters between Bobbie, who has just turned 35 but still does not feel ready—or lucky enough—for marriage, and her wedded friends, each of whom has a different advice to give her and a different marital experience to sing of (in celebration or in despair, or sometimes in both). It’s immensely pleasant to wander from one scene to another and often to witness them superimposed on one another, thematically as well as visually. Even as Sondheim and Furth bring to the fore many a familiar fact and argument about marital life, they defamiliarize what it means to commit to someone else in such a capacity, to be so in need of another’s (or, in Bobbie’s case, of others’) perpetual company. There is not a dint of overt philosophizing or aggressive social critique in any of this, but there’s more than enough soul in every minute to take you down that road if you so wish.
The whole cast is nothing but stellar: Rosalie Craig is both introspective and carefree as a marriage-averse Bobbie. Patti Lupone, as Joane, is elegance and sass writ large. Jonathan Bailey’s Jamie and Richard Fleeshman’s Andy are a delight to watch. And all the others deliver similarly spectacular performances. Bunny Christie’s set design is responsible for much of the magical thrust of the entire show: ceaselessly surprising, flexible, and chic, her movable—and attachable—containers are immaculate aids to the structural twists and turns of the story. In his neon-heavy and vibrant lighting design, Neil Austin knows well how to sustain, amplify, and then relocate our attention. Liam Steel’s choreography, neither too over-the-top nor too meek, hits the right spot with its rich palette of self-assured (and sometimes acrobatic) moves and motions. And finally, the great orchestrator of it all: Marianne Eliot’s direction is at once intelligent and sensitive, infusing both the musical numbers and the dialogue with wit and gravity in equal parts. This is the kind of production that works hard and plays hard, leaving one enchanted.