Company @ Gielgud Theatre*

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Tickets and more information: https://www.londonboxoffice.co.uk/company-tickets
Production Photos by: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
Booking until: 30th March 2019

In their joint venture producer Chris Harper and director Marianne Elliott have brought back the classic Sondheim musical Company, but with a twist. When the musical originated, the show centred around Robert, a newly turned 35 year old man whose married friends are wondering why he hasn’t got married yet. Bringing the musical into 2018, the show now follows newly turned 35 year old Bobbie whose married friends are wondering why she hasn’t settled down already. Prior to this production, I knew very little about the original musical itself. But now having seen this production, I cannot imagine it any other way.

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Leading the show as central character Bobbie is Rosalie Craig who is a force to be reckoned with. Not only is she stunning and has the kind of voice dreams are made of, she is so enticingly charming as Bobbie, she instantly draws you in as you follow her on this journey. The entire show is designed to take place in Bobbie’s head. There’s no linear structure so the show jumps from scene to scene, all tied together by her friends trying to  throw her a surprise birthday party. And she never leaves the stage. To have that kind of stamina is a gift and we are not worthy of Rosalie Craig’s. Not the only gender swap in the show, instead of Robert’s three girlfriends we now have Bobbie’s three boyfriends. There’s Andy (formerly April), a dim but sweet flight attendant played by Richard Fleeshman, Theo (formerly Kathy), played by Matthew Seadon-Young, who has history with Bobbie and even in the short bickering moments, it’s clear to see why they didn’t work out. And then there’s George Blagden as PJ (formerly Marta) who is outstanding. If you think you’ve met the most hipster of hipsters, you have not met George Blagden’s portrayal of PJ. Not only is his rendition of Another Hundred People gorgeous to listen to, but he’s absolutely hilarious and hits the nail on the head perfectly. Collectively, the boyfriends’ group number You Could Drive A Person Crazy is an absolute showstopper and is one of my favourite scenes in the show. The lyric changes work well, the doo-wap harmonies are off the charts and it’s got some funny moments within it too.

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Bobbie’s married friends have also been given a modern makeover. Instead of the famous Sondheim classic Not Getting Married being performed by Amy as she frets about getting married to Paul (Alex Gaumond), it is now Jamie (Jonathan Bailey) as he frets about getting married to Paul. Now, I would say Jonathan Bailey is a revelation, but I’ve been saying this for two years now since I saw him in The Last Five Years. Not only does he have an incredible voice but his comedic timing and delivery is, honestly, perfect. Speaking as someone who has quite a bit (okay… ALOT) of life experience being in a neurotic state, I did worry that this scene was going to be played off as a mockery. But it isn’t. The whole scene basks in the hilarity of it. Everything about the scene is heightened in a way that parallels the heightened reaction of Jamie.  The use of staging and Bunny Christie’s masterpiece of a set design incorporates all of this perfectly and honestly, it’s the most superb scene in the show.

All of the couples have wonderful chemistry with each other. What I didn’t realise at the time was in the scene with Jenny (Jennifer Saayeng) and David (Richard Henders), the creative team have swapped the couples lines around. So instead of Jenny being a stay at home mum, it’s David who is a stay at home dad. Then there’s Susan (Daisy Maywood) and Peter (Ashley Campbell) who are wondering whether marriage is the right thing for them. There’s Sarah (Mel Giedroyc) and Harry (Gavin Spokes) who have a really funny scene involving jiu-jitsu (no, seriously). And lastly there’s Joanne (Patti LuPone) and Larry (Ben Lewis). Given the last time Patti LuPone opened a show in the West End was before I was even born, it’s safe to say I was not ready for her performance. Having already sworn off musicals after her last Broadway outing in War Paint, I think it goes to show the kind of influence Marianne Elliott has, if she was the one who brought Patti LuPone back to musicals. It’s only right that one of the most iconic, legendary musical theatre actresses play one of the most iconic, legendary musical theatre characters. Every side eye, snarky comment and word delivered by LuPone with a sting is scene stealing and builds up to an exciting climax by the time her 11 o’clock number Ladies Who Lunch rolls around. And it’s worth the wait.

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The entire creative team have outdone themselves. Bunny Christie’s set design is technically adventurous but it is a thing of wonder when you see it. Liam Steel’s choreography is explosive and vibrant, particularly in the opening of act 2 which made my jaw hit the floor. And the illusions by Chris Fisher that are incorporated in the piece are subtle but leave an everlasting effect of shock on the audience.

What this boils down to is that, without a shadow of a doubt, this is an absolutely genius production. I’ve never been more thankful to someone than producer Chris Harper who mentioned the idea of flipping the gender of the main character to Marianne in the first place. Because it is so refreshing as a young woman to see another woman be so unapologetically single that it gives me so much hope. I’m of the firm belief that women can have it all – marriage/children/a career (and they do! I work with a bunch of women who have all these things) but some of us just don’t want to. Watching Bobbie’s friends feed into her that she should probably start settling down, I did feel like I was watching my future. But by the time Being Alive rolled around I felt hopeful watching Bobbie reclaim her narrative.

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Marianne Elliott is a visionary and, quite frankly, we don’t deserve her genius. Having seen and wholeheartedly loved her production of Angels In America last year, I had high expectations but this production surpassed them with flying colours. Marianne Elliott doesn’t just revive shows, she reinvents them. She reinvents them in a way that diminishes any pre-existing notions. Because now I can’t ever imagine a production of Company where the main character was male. This is one of those shows I will try to soak up as much as I can before it’s run ends in March. Get your tickets. Before I buy them all.

Until next time,

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