The company of a woman

Rating: 4

Company

by Richard Barber

Sstephen Sondheim is a multi- award-winning composer and lyricist, the prolific talent behind everything from West Side Story and Follies, to A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd. Marianne Elliott is one of our most gifted directors, widely touted as a future artistic director of the National Theatre.

Now they’ve combined their skills on a much-vaunted revival of Company – with a twist. In the 1970 original, our hero, Robert, was worrying that, at 35, he was becoming a bit long in the tooth to remain single. Since, argued Elliott, this is not a dilemma that would resonate with a contemporary audience, why not a gender switch? Thus Bobby becomes Bobbie and, what’s more, with the composer’s approval.

It works very well. Rosalie Craig effectively weighs up the continuing liberation of singledom with the increasingly audible ticking of her biological clock. Nor is her situation much helped by the example of her close friends, both straight and gay, the little things You do together perfectly pointing up the pluses and minuses of relationships in Sondheim's witty song.

Bobbie is trapped, a fact underlined by designer Bunny Christie’s succession of cell-like sets which, although beautifully executed and sliding seamlessly across the stage, nonetheless sometimes serve to limit the space in which the actors can operate.

But there’s little faulting the well-drilled ensemble. gavin spokes and the Bake Off’s Mel Giedroyc have a lot of fun depicting a marriage more akin to successive bouts of martial arts. Daisy Maywood and Ashley Campbell effectively show that they’re much happier together post-divorce. And Richard Henders and Jennifer Saayeng walk the tightrope of a relationship in which she calls the shots.

But it is gay couple Paul (Alex Gaumond) and Jamie (Jonathan Bailey) who all but steal the show with the latter’s hilarious wedding- day jitters in getting Married today. Richard Fleeshman, as handsome himbo Andy, also extracts maximum juice out of his bedroom scene with Bobbie and their duet, Barcelona.

Then there’s the peerless Patti LuPone. If she’s underused that’s no fault of the director, but you long for her exquisitely executed wisecracks while her sour, sardonic rendition of the Ladies Who Lunch, each syllable perfectly enunciated, leaves you aching for more.

There’s no plot to speak of and no real narrative thread in George Furth’s book, just a string of brittle set-pieces in a timeless New York. Not much point bemoaning the fact that at bedrock it’s heartless because that clearly is the intention. It means, though, it ends up being easier to admire than to love.

Until 22 December at the Gielgud Theatre, London W1: 0844-482 5130, www.delfont mackintosh.co.uk

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