As I walked to my seat in Gielgud Theatre, the main worry I had was whether swapping the genders in this classic musical would be anything more than an audience-grabbing gimmick.
Well, it did work. I was there, praying that it would add more than advertising value to the show.
The play explores different stages of marriages from Bobbie’s perspective through a series of vignettes. It’s Bobbie’s (Bobby in Sondheim’s original play) 35th birthday, and her friends, her “married friends”, as Bobbie (Rosalie Craig) likes to put it, throw a surprise party to celebrate the occasion. All her friends want to know the same thing, though. When is Bobbie going to get married?
Thanks to the reversal of genders, there is more at stakes than just peer-pressure; female Bobbie’s biological clock is also racing throughout the play. This is no longer a show about a man with commitment issues. It is so much more. Just this alone makes this change worthwhile. It is not a ground-breaking change, but it makes the play feel fresh.
Bobbie is not the only character whose gender has been changed. Amy has now become Jamie, introducing a gay couple into the play. This works wonderfully, as it makes the play beautifully inclusive without feeling forced. Bobbie’s three love interests are also gender-swapped, paving the way for interesting yet valuable commentary about dating, and the different dating behaviour that is (but should not be) expected from men and women. The couple of David and Jenny is role-flipped, portraying the image of a bread-winning wife and a stay-at-home dad, once again, complicating the previously stereotypical picture of the roles of men and women in marriages.
Company is credited to be one of the first “concept musicals”. Despite not having a linear plot, not only is it easy to follow, the different vignettes connect together nicely to feel like a cohesive piece. This is greatly helped by Sondheim’s timeless compositions, which are, at times, absolutely genius.
‘Ladies Who Lunch’, performed masterfully by the iconic Patti LuPone is just the right degree of resentful and bitter, yet absolutely tasteful. LuPone, who previously undertook the role in the 2011 New York Philharmonic Concert, nails the role of Joanne and delivers a multi-faceted performance.
‘Getting Married Today’, a monster of a song to perform, and a definite highlight of the show, is performed skilfully by Jonathan Bailey who is pitch perfect, both vocally and with his acting. Originally written for a female character, it is refreshing to watch a male character get cold feet before a wedding. The lyrics are hilarious, but Bailey’s performance truly elevates the song. However, it is worth noting that, at times, the number relies heavily on gimmicks, which make the number even funnier, but rather distracting.
Rosalie Craig makes a great Bobbie, whose subtle performance makes it clear that the show isn’t about Bobbie, but about love and life through her eyes. She is relatable, and not for one second does she seem greedy or unsatisfied.
The overall cast is also great. Mel Giedroyc and Gavin Spokes, who have amazing comedic timing and brilliant chemistry, carry the roles of Sarah and Harry perfectly.
The play is directed skilfully by Marianne Elliott (Angels in America, War Horse, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), who transforms the play from being simply through Bobbie’s eyes, to being in her mind as she explores, examines and compares her current life to what could be if she was married.
One particular scene is worth mentioning here; a dream sequence, where Bobbie sees flashes of what her life would be as a married woman. A Bobbie who’s pregnant. A Bobbie who’s just given birth. Several Bobbies-of-what-could-be fill the stage. This is both intimidating and wonderful to see, as it gives the most clear glimpse into Bobbie’s head than anything else in the play.
It is also important to point out that the play looks incredible. The impact of developing technology is clear, and it makes a fifty year old play feel fresh as if it was written yesterday.
The staging matches the colourful posters that adorn all of the walls, with moving giant set pieces forming rooms for the action to take place. They also make way for some visual illusionism with clear Alice In Wonderland references, driving home the point that it’s all, in fact, in Bobbie’s head. Speaking of which, Bobbie clearly stands out in her red dress, reinforcing how different she is, and how different she feels from all her friends. Her married friends.
In summary, Company not only matches the expectations, but,w for the most part, massively exceeds them. It is both entertaining and heart breaking, with music to die for. Pretty darn close to being perfect, Company promises to be a wonderful trip to the theatre.