It’s a relief to know that the buzz around Marianne Elliott’s sex-switched production of Company is fully justified – it makes you feel better about London theatre-hype in general.
Our great Lord Stephen of Sondheim himself has described Company as possessing ‘more of a condition’ than a narrative. That’s beautifully astute. Not a huge amount happens outside of our protagonist’s own mind, but there are glorious musical meditations on love, anxiety, ageing, and marriage. In Elliott’s version the original’s Bobby is now ‘Bobbi’(Rosalie Craig), and we find her first in a New York apartment enjoying a surprise birthday ambush for her 35th. The numbers are present in the form of huge balloons. Here they look celebratory, yet they grow and shift throughout the production alongside Bobbi’s concerns, and at one point they are positively looming.
Bunny Christie’s set doesn’t just do justice to Sondheim’s work – it both amplifies and reimagines it. Neon boxes move on and off the stage (often pushed and pulled by Bobbi, as if dragging herself back to reality). There’s a dusky bar, a comically-over-populated kitchen and a time-lapsed glimpse of a future in an NYC bedroom. Much of it runs like a dream sequence until an excoriating one-liner on marriage brings you back to earth with a bump.
Bobbi, moving through scenes in her red dress, is surrounded by friends who want to see her happy and settled. Many women will recognise the well-intentioned but ultimately infuriating ‘Poor Bobbi’ refrain in their own lives. In fact, watching Elliott’s entirely commanding production, it’s difficult to believe that this story first belonged to a man. A big part of that is down to Craig, who is wholly assured and pitch-perfect as Bobbi. The whole ensemble is sublime, and there’s a tangible frisson among the audience every time Patti Lupone is within a hair’s breadth of the stage as Joanne. It’s not a huge part, but the pay-off is worth your ticket price alone.
Company represented a musical theatre innovation when it first played in 1970. Elliott’s recasting breathes such new life into it, you’ll leave wondering what else might be ripe for such transformational treatment in her expert hands.
Reviewed by April Delaney
Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg