Company at the Gielgud Theatre
Having never seen or heard Stephen Sondheim’s Company before Marianne Elliott’s production, it is now hard to fathom a version that doesn’t have a Bobbie rather than a Bobby. The entire work just seems tailor-made for a female lead. Because, while bachelors by and large escape society’s scorn – at least before a certain age – a young single woman is still, in 2018, something to be feared or pitied, an anomaly threatening the entire system of heterosexual coupledom. In that sense there are scenes in the musical that feel like a patriarchal horrorshow, hordes of married zombies swarming around the lead character, braying not for brains but a ring finger.
Packed into Bunny Christie’s glowing city box dioramas, Bobbie (Rosalie Craig) is turning 35, and her matrimonially complete friends are throwing her a surprise party. From this starting point (and middle point – and end point) spins a tour through the backrooms of marriage and the vice-like pressures put on those un-wed to conform at the altar.
First and foremost, Company has got a red-hot ensemble. Craig is a wonder; front and centre for nearly all the play, she makes her Bobbie sardonic and sincere, baffled by her friends, beaten down by their “care”, (relatively) comfortable alone while still looking for that elusive someone. She may not get the best songs, but she uses every second of her lengthy stage time to make her character more than an observer.
Of the copious other highlights, Mel Giedroyc and Gavin Spokes are a wonderfully well-worn couple wrestling in the living room. Richard Fleeschman is an absurdly dumb (and absurdly ripped), if well meaning, Andy. Jonathan Bailey brings the house down in the first-act centrepiece Getting Married Today, a priest-popping, wedding day unravelling. And Patti LuPone is, well, Patti; her role may be closer to a cameo than the press would suggest, but her Ladies Who Lunch nevertheless drips with disdain and regret.
The Bobby-to-Bobbie switch isn’t a complete slam dunk. That all three of the character’s girlfriends have become boyfriends is a missed chance for a more expansive example of LBGT representation beyond Amy and Paul turning into Jamie and Paul. It is almost one step forwards and two steps back in terms of what Elliott and her team are trying to do with the casting, a criticism that also applies to the overwhelming whiteness of the love interests.
Yet the director has still given the musical an edge that is difficult to imagine would be there in its original form. As the men sing Poor Baby at Bobbie, fretting about her loneliness; as her lovers call her “crazy” and a “flirt”; as she is asked repeatedly “when are you gonna get married?”, Elliott emphasises the patriarchal trap women find themselves in. And in doing so, she just might have improved on God’s work.
Company is at the Gielgud Theatre from 26th September until 22nd December 2018. Book your tickets here.