Even with the glut of productions staged to mark Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday last year, London still can’t get enough of his work. Southwark Playhouse’s latest production, their first ever staging of a musical, is a revival of Company.
Perpetual singleton Bobby is 35 and his married friends are throwing him a party: from this fairly simple premise stems a show about life and love that says more about relationships in a single song than a truckload of Bridget Jones books. Sondheim’s lyrics and George Furth’s book are as relevant now as when they were written; updated with little more than a blast of Rihanna and a sprinkling of iPhones, this is a sharp, funny and sometimes bittersweet look at modern living that rattles along with barely a pause for breath.
As Bobby, Rupert Young brings plenty of gangly grace and charisma: it’s easy to believe he enjoys the life about town, and provides both a reflection of and focus for his friends’ escapism and fantasies. He’s slightly defeated by the songs: in common with most of the cast, his voice in solo isn’t really up to the famously punishing Sondheim, though to his credit he manages a suitably rousing rendition of the finale number, ‘Being Alive.’
While no one possesses a standout voice, there are stand out numbers: Siobhán McCarthy as Joanne gives a magnificently discordant and defiant ‘Ladies who Lunch’, while Cassidy Janson’s hilarious yet heartbreaking ode to wedding jitters, ‘Getting Married Today’, was delivered with a breakneck breathlessness that had the audience cheering, well supported by the fine voice of Greg Castiglioni as fiancé Paul.
Overall the cast is strong, with each given their moment to shine: it’s hard to single people out from the ensemble, but props must go to Kate Brayben’s ditzy stewardess for managing some of the show’s funniest lines with aplomb; while Michelle Bishop’s Another 100 People feels like the ideal song for the world’s most exciting city and is delivered with verve. Generation X-ers, as well as being depressed by the fact that 35 is apparently the age you at which you need to start settling down, will probably be left feeling ancient at the sight of Mark Curry – eternally boyish Blue Peter presenter – here playing Larry, the silver haired older man.
It’s as an ensemble the cast really gels: the company numbers are the ones that take flight, and director Joe Fredericks must share credit with musical director Oliver Jackson and choreographer Sam Spencer-Lane for tight-knit, beautifully meshed performances.
Southwark Playhouse is actually a fitting setting: the stripped back brick could be the décor of a contemporary New York apartment: even the ever-present rumbling of the tubes from nearby London Bridge could be taken for the sound of the city just outside Bobby’s walls. Paul Wills’ set recognises this and keeps it simple: a few pieces of furniture are just about all the show needs.
All in all, this is a joyous production of a show that simply doesn’t date: for its inaugural musical, the Southwark could not have done better.