Re:View – ‘Company’
London and New York share a special relationship when it comes to Stephen Sondheim. The two cities may snipe about who’s top dog, but Sondheim productions which start here have a habit of ending up there. This is probably because of the way he is re-interpreted by London directors, who feel less inclined to treat plays as museum pieces.
After last summer’s extraordinary reworking of ‘Into The Woods’ in Regent’s Park, ‘Company’ goes under the knife and comes up filled with fresh insights. I thought I’d seen this show too many times (I was at the original run in the early seventies) to feel it could ever yield something new. Southwark Playhouse is keen to point out that this is the first major revival in 15 years. Well, it’s still a Fringe production (think Donmar with damp) but the sound of trains overhead adds to the New York cacophony.
What’s different this time around? A modernisation that allows Bobby to hide behind computers and social networking, a much sharper script with some zinging one-liners, and making sure that the story of the 35 year-old single man who can’t commit has more relevance now than ever. Best of all, numbers are staged in imaginative new ways, from turning ‘The Little Things You Do Together’ into a tango to making ‘Sorry /Grateful’ a wistful lullaby.
When the number ‘What Would We Do Without You’ becomes hyper-energetic, Bobby drops to his knees in the middle of the kick-line and snorts coke off his iPhone to keep going, and we suddenly realise that it’s just as hard for him to stay single it is as for the others to remain married. ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ suddenly feels site-specific, because it takes place in the kind of club these railway arches house all around the theatre. And those girls who form a trio for ‘You Could Drive A Person Crazy’ remain a trio throughout the play, acting as a Greek chorus of all the women Bobby has slept with.
The fact that this feels like a newly minted show is down to director Joe Fredericks. He can’t modernise a couple of timewarp lyrics that mention phone services and Life magazine, but by highlighting the play’s timeless core he’s created a winner that’s bound to transfer to a bigger venue. It’s brave to allow Rupert Young to come over as a surprisingly unlikeable, oleaginous Bobby, but by placing our sympathies with the committers rather than the commitment-phobe, Fredericks turns the once-cynical Company into a 21st century valentine.
See it before the inevitable move.