24 August 2015
Stephen Sondheim shows are renowned for their idiosyncratic phrasing and vocal gymnastics. Any company brave enough to take them on is either very talented or very stupid. KW Productions had a resounding success with last year's staging of A Slice of Saturday Night at Upstairs at The Western so it was no surprise that this evening's tale of a perpetually single 35 year old's friends extolling the virtues and demerits of couple-dom was just as funny, musical and energetic.
Company is one of the first concept musicals that didn't conform the to the linear dialogue format of previous shows. Linked by Robert's (Keiran Whelan) 35th birthday party, this is a series of vignettes of the lives of his ten best friends, five couples ostensibly happily married but each of them, on closer inspection, just papering over the cracks in their relationships in order to hold them together. While there are several heartbreaking moments these are counterbalanced by some hilarious set pieces. Amy's (Victoria Price) hysterical, high speed bride being one of the best. Also worthy of note is Joanne's (Karen Gordon) drunken rendition of The Ladies Who Lunch. A delicious homage to Elaine Stritch's show stopping performance, but actually in tune!
Although originally written by Sondheim and George Furth in 1970 it was updated in the early 90's to make it more uptodate. The current production is further modernised by making one of the couples lesbians. A nice touch which makes their karate wrestling scene very believable. Adding in mobile phones also allows the director, Leigh White, to poke gentle fun at the current obsession with selfies.
Throughout the evening each of the various couples take centre stage and we watch as their relationships are revealed to be much less than the perfect couplings Robert assumes.
With a huge (for the Western) cast of 14 they amazingly manage to avoid bumping into each other unintentionally and even squeeze in a couple of production numbers.
While Sondheim's cynicism of marriage and long term relationships shines through the story shows that despite the ups and downs, dramas and divorces friends are always company and company is always friends
Company is on at Upstairs at The Western until Saturday 29th August (Saturday matinee sold out) and then at Little Theatre from 2nd to 5th September.
First published in Western Gazette
© Paul Towers 2015