Review - Company (Gielgud Theatre)

What do you want to get married for?

That is the question splayed across posters for Marianne Elliott's updated new production of George Furth and Stephen Sondheim's Company. 

It's also the question that plenty of single women will hear again and again, with every birthday that passes, from the lips of curious, concerned, and sometimes just plain busybodying family and friends. Which is what makes Elliott's production so apt. As Bobby, the male protagonist of the original Company, becomes Bobbie, a woman, the idea of being 35 and single carries plenty of other connotations. "Bobbie baby" indeed. 

The cast of Company
Photo credit - Brinkhoff Moegenburg
Set in modern day New York, Company consists of a series of vignettes, each of which explore the various relationships, both friendly and romantic, of single woman Bobbie. As she passes in and out of the lives of her married friends, she observes the trappings of marriage, but in spite of them, as she celebrates her 35th birthday she slowly begins to warm to the idea of commitment. 

Bunny Christie's set design is a marvel in itself. Perfectly reflecting the cold, sterile isolation of city life, Christie's set is comprised of a series on boxy interconnected rooms framed oftentimes by cool neon lights. Bobbie's apartment is a too-perfect collection of rectangular spaces, hinting at expense but looking severely un-lived in. 

At the centre of this cold, enclosed world is Rosalie Craig's vibrant Bobbie. Dressed from head to toe in ravenous red, she's certainly something to behold as she bounces from friend to friend. And yet amid the marital mayhem of Bobbie's friends, she rather sinks into the background. Outnumbered two to one by her overbearing couple friends, all snapping at one another whilst Bobbie kicks desperately to keep her head above the water.  One gets the sense that she is not ready, or particularly eager, to settle down, but absolutely terrified of getting left behind as all of her acquaintances' lives keep moving forwards. In today's era of FOMO, where every little detail of everyone's life is routinely scrutinised, this is a theme which seemed overwhelmingly relevant. 

Rosalie Craig, Alex Gaumond and Jonathan Bailey in Company
Photo credit - Brinkhoff Moegenburg
Bobbie's friends are certainly an entertaining bunch. Amongst the couples are Sarah and Harry, a chocoholic martial artist and a bumbling alcoholic, who seem to be playing a never ending game of tug of war with each other and are portrayed perfectly by Mel Giedroyc and Gavin Spokes. Jonathan Bailey and Alex Gaumond are equally entertaining as sweet but neurotic Jamie and smotheringly doting Paul. Meanwhile Ben Lewis' Larry is coupled with Patti LuPone's caustic Joanne.

The dynamic between Joanne and Bobbie is a fascinating one because is many ways they're very similar women; rich, and driven and who know their own minds. But even though Joanne is married (to her third husband, no less) and keen to see Bobbie do the same, her searing rendition of Ladies Who Lunch both warns against any unwillingness to fulfil the roles expected of women within society, and spits on the emptiness of that life. Joanne seems to suggest that although the idea of never getting married is unthinkable, should Bobbie get married she would inevitably become another lady who lunches, flaunting money at fancy social events, and doing not much else day to day. Despite the fact that, as Bobbie's stay-at-home-dad pal David shows, typical gender roles are less strictly upheld in 2018. It's a tragic realisation for the audience that brash and brassy Joanne is not nearly as blasé as she seems. Although the tragedy is worth it to hear LuPone's earth shattering vocals tackle what is arguably the musical's eleven o'clock number. 

Patti LuPone in Company
Photo credit - Brinkhoff Moegenburg
Thankfully, Company isn't all existential dread though. There are some real belly laugh moments in this musical comedy too, which are masterfully brought to life by an outstanding cast. Jonathan Bailey's rendition of Not Getting Married Today is a frantic plea for help performed at breakneck speed as a nerve wracked Jamie tries to garble his way out of marrying devoted longtime boyfriend Paul, whilst being pursued around his home by a priest who pops out of nowhere to exult about wedded bliss at every chance she gets. And You Could Drive A Person Crazy uses similarly surreal humour. Canonically performed Anderson Sisters style by Bobby's three flames Marta, April, and Kathy, in Elliott's reimagined staging Bobbie's boyfriends PJ, Theo, and Andy take on the number, smooth barbershop-esque vocals clashing nicely with the hyper modern setting and further emphasising how outdated the musical's emphasis on marriage seems. George Blagden, Matthew Seadon-Young and Richard Fleeshman are very entertaining in their roles, with Fleeshman's dopey yet lovable flight attendant Andy providing some of the musical's biggest laughs. 

This version of Company is the definitive version for 2018. Ingeniously directed and performed with humour and nuance, it makes the argument both for marriage and against it, and leaves the audience to imagine what is best for Bobbie, and by extension, what is best for themselves.