Company @ Union Theatre, London

cast list
Lincoln Stone, Samantha Seager, Tom Hyatt, Jenny Layton, Steven Craven, Jane Quinn, Nigel Pilkington, Marisa Leigh Boynton, Paul Callen, Lucy Wiliamson, Gido Schimanski, Samantha Giffard, Katherine Eames, Lucy Evans

directed by
Michael Strassen
First hitting Broadway in 1970, Company is one of Stephen Sondheim’s best loved musicals.

It has been performed so often over the years, by professionals and amateurs both, that I had started to assume there was nowhere left to take it.

But in this production by the Union Theatre, who staged the same composer’s Sweeney Todd last October, Sondheim’s ‘best’ is taken, and made even better.

Company focuses on 35-year old Bobby who is everyone’s best friend, but has failed to settle down and marry.It consists of a series of scenes in which Bobby interacts with five married couples and three girlfriends.
Bobby seeks love and companionship, but fears the responsibility that accompanies marriage, and remains perturbed by the thought of permanently having to endure another person’s inevitable pettiness and foibles.

The beauty of Sondheim’s music and lyrics (the book is by George Furth) lie in their ability to make the partly egocentric Bobby seem so human and likeable. As we observe him in a series of scenes with married couples, we can fully appreciate his reasons for not wishing to marry, whilst also accepting that he doesn’t have a single reason to stay alone. In this way, Sondheim never romanticises marriage, and in the song Sorry-Grateful, the reasons presented for remaining with one’s wife or separating are remarkably evenly balanced.

The joy of this production lies in the sheer extent to which Bobby is portrayed as an isolated individual. With the stage bare and dimly lit, as the company sing their opening song, there is little sense of claustrophobia at being surrounded by such ‘ghastly’ people, as is normally the case. Rather, with the cast standing in a straight line chanting ‘Happy Birthday’ together, the pre-eminent fear is that to marry is to lose oneself.

Excepting a few moments when the interaction between some couples lacked a little in fine tuning, the acting was superb. Particular accolades must go to Lucy Williamson as Joanna, a seductive but needful lady who feels that youth and life are slipping through her fingers. Lucy Evans also deserves mention for taking a risk by throwing herself so completely into portraying Bobby’s bimbo girlfriend, and most certainly coming up trumps.

The production was also characterised by strong singing, not least from Jane Quinn in Bless this Day whose purposely exaggerated warbles didn’t mask her fine operatic voice, and from Samantha Giffard, Katherine Eames and Lucy Evans in the trio You Could Drive a Person Crazy.

But the star of the show was undoubtedly Lincoln Stone as Bobby, who achieved the right balance between always doing and saying the right thing when in company, whilst simultaneously seeming detached from everyone around him. Indeed, with his voice so strong, resonant, and full of despair, as he sang the emotive finale, Being Alive, I didn’t know whether to applaud wildly or burst into tears.

But, in the end, I decided that it was the former action that he, and the production as a whole, deserved more.

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