After the glut of Sondheim stagings, concerts and celebrations to mark his 80th birthday last year, Southwark Playhouse has waited until the glut died down to produce Company as their first ever musical.
It’s an inspired setting as the bare brick of London Bridge railway arches easily conveys Manhattan loft living.
Company really works well small scale, focusing as it does on the intimate and here the show has been stripped back to their bare essentials of staging, allowing the wit of music and lyrics to shine through.
As Bobby faces the dawning of his 35th birthday, friends are desperate to see him settle down and marry, seeing his singleton status as a sign of fear of commitment.
Company is never a light and frothy musical, nor should it be, but here the tone is darker than normal.
While never entirely likeable, Bobby is often played with a sympathetic tone, Rupert Young’s Bobby, however, is much more complex, a predatory serial cad who rather than fearing loneliness actually embraces the freedom it provides. It’s an interpretation that makes it initially hard to engage with Bobby but when you consider his so called friends are equally manipulative its easier to accept.
With such a minimalist production and small performance space performances become key. Thankfully director Joe Fredericks has cast the company (no pun intended) well.
As ever with Sondheim this isn’t an easy score to sing but here the complex rhythms and lyrics are delivered with style and wit.
Highlight of the evening has to go to Cassidy Janson’s manic reluctant bride to be Amy. Her rendition of Getting Married Today a masterclass in Sondheim delivery. Siobhan McCarthy invokes the spirit of Elaine Stritch in an acidic The Ladies Who Lunch, while Katie Brayden’s dizzy air stewardess April is a joy.
The Bobby character ultimately needs to cement the show and initially takes some warming to. While his Act One finale solo Marry Me A Little seems insipid and underplayed, his rendition of one of musical theatre’s great male torch songs, Being Alive, shines.
In such a small space, over amplification of the small but effective band results in music lacking clarity at times and some lyrics are lost but when it all comes together it works beautifully.
Many see the non-linear structure of Company problematic, but stripped here of unnecessary frills it proves to be a timeless classic chamber musical.