The clamour, over recent years, for more roles, substantial roles, for women in plays and musicals has led to the current trend of re-writing/re-modelling established shows for female leads rather than males. In the vanguard of this movement, last year at the National, we saw Simon Godwin’s superlative Twelfth Night, that mother of all cross-dressing extravaganzas, staged with Tamsin Greig being boldly, and outstandingly, cast as Malvolio. Did it work? Oh, yes; and some.
It has to be said that Godwin, despite his apparently super-hero-type powers as an interpreter of Shakespeare, was not able to call upon any input from the Bard in his quest for re-interpretation. Unlike Marianne Elliott whose invigorating production of Company has landed with triumphant aplomb on the West End stage. The thirty-five-year-old male marriage-phobic Bobby has been transmogrified into Bobbie, the thirty-five-year-old female marriage-phobic and Elliott sought, and crucially I believe, obtained the input of genius of our times Stephen Sondheim, creator of the original musical masterpiece and blessing-conferrer on this latest incarnation.
With a book written by George Furth and originally staged in 1970 Company is “contemporary” writ large despite the 48-year lag and not simply because of the gender re-assignment. In the same way that Shakespeare still speaks
with full unmitigated force to the audiences of today, so does Sondheim. He’s relevant with a capital “R” and now with a capital NOW. Elliot gets this and, in wanting to identify “good parts for women – not romantic ingénues but roles for older women” she has mined what is unquestionably a rich seam of pertinence via the modern penchant for self-awareness. Interestingly Elliot’s idea germinated at the National and she pitched the notion of Bobby becoming a woman to Rosalie Craig in the lunch queue. On re-reading the script Craig loved the concept: later, as she was getting off the tube, Elliott said: “Oh, and I want you to play Bobbie”. That turned out to be a very smart tube-disembarkment. Craig, as well as being positive and sassy, has this slightly distracted air of someone who is always outside-looking-in, someone who can’t quite put her finger on what it is that makes her different – and unmarried – to her circle of friends. She seems to be in a kind of chocolate-box reverie – a box where all the good ones have been taken and she doesn’t fancy the ones that are left. And throughout this Craig sings like a dream. She is well-supported by the coterie of marrieds/almost marrieds: it’s a vibrant collection of strong characters who, as a chorus, handle Sondheim’s magnificent but challenging music well and the slickly clever staging by Bunny Christie never allows interest to flag. And on top of all this is the wondrous Patti Lupone. In my view, Lupone is the star of the show precisely because she is NOT the star of the show and never does she attempt to commandeer that limelight. Generous to a fault with her co-cast members she snuggles comfortably into the Sondheim eiderdown with no airs, no graces and no hint of the luvvie-look-at-me persona that some great “stars” take on when they step onto the stage. Earthy and real she’s a big team-player here: I was lucky enough to see her as Evita on Broadway way back and I can confirm that the mellow honey and lemon voice still reaches the emotive goose-bumps that other singers cannot reach.
Joel Fram directs a superb 16 piece orchestra, suspended high above the action – sound reproduction by Ian Dickinson and Autograph is faultless. Neil Austin’s Lighting design is subtly complementary and the choreography – by Liam Steel – in the room-limited settings, is all energetic confinement.
The show is an absolute delight and will wow audiences to the end of its run: – which means one thing is certain – if you can get to the Gielgud to see it, you will be in good company.
Review by Peter Yates
At Bobbie’s (Rosalie Craig) 35th birthday party all her friends are wondering why isn’t she married? Why can’t she find the right man and Why can’t she settle down and have a family? Featuring Stephen Sondheim’s award winning songs Company, You Could Drive a Person Crazy, The Ladies Who Lunch, Side by Side and the iconic Being Alive.
Starring Rosalie Craig as Bobbie, Patti LuPone as Joanne, Mel Giedroyc as Sarah, Jonathan Bailey as Jamie, George Blagden as PJ, Ashley Campbell as Peter, Richard Fleeshman as Andy, Alex Gaumond as Paul, Richard Henders as David, Ben Lewis as Larry, Daisy Maywood as Susan, Jennifer Saayeng as Jenny, Matthew Seadon-Young as Theo and Gavin Spokes as Harry.
Shaftesbury Avenue, London-W1D 6AR
Booking From September 26, 2018
Booking To 31st March 2019