We are gathered here today to celebrate the 35th birthday of Bobby the eternal bachelor. Or his he? Does he really want to get married or is being single his default state? While his friends are all married, to various degrees of unhappiness, Bobby remains resolutely single.
Sondheim’s Company has always given directors a quandary of what to do with Bobby. Is he a serial cad, a desperate loner, or just your average 30-something battling through the minefield of relationships. Sondheim’s non-linear structure also adds to the dilemma but Jonathan Munby’s energetic revival at Sheffield Crucible provides a tantalising interpretation.
Here Bobby is a man tormented, trying to cope with the constant social expectations and pressures, in such a state that, while we suspect the montage of couples trying to run his life are horribly real, there is the real possibility that they are in fact a figment of his troubled mind.
It’s an interpretation that works well and given the constant barrage of so-called good intentions from his circle of friends it’s no wonder that Bobby is desperate to avoid his ‘surprise’ birthday party.
Some find Company’s lack of linear plot problematic but the piece stands testament to Sondheim’s skill in fusing music and lyrical styles to drive dramatic narrative and the Crucible’s production ranks among the finest stagings of the production.
Munby’s direction gives ample space for each character competing for Bobby’s attention to develop while, at the same time, rewarding close viewing with some minutely drawn detail.
Munby has also assembled a company of first rate musical performers, each delivering multi-layered characters that are both monstrous yet sadly identifiable. In a universally strong ensemble there are show-stealing performances from Samantha Spiro as the reluctant bride to be, Amy, a manic performance culminating in the breathless ‘Getting Married Today’, and a glorious, gin-soaked, venomous Joanne from Francesca Annis virtually spitting out each line of ‘Ladies Who Lunch’.
Leading the Company is the Crucible’s own Artistic Director Daniel Evans. Evans is mesmerising as Bobby, only briefly off stage throughout the entire evening. A study in loneliness and desperation, this is a Bobby that is only all to painfully real. From the plaintive ‘Marry Me A Little’ to the rousing anthemic ‘Being Alive’ Evans sings some of Sondheim’s most emotive numbers with real passion and power.
Christopher Oram’s Manhattan loft setting provides an ample playground for the company while Lynne Page’s choreography has just enough nods to Broadway classics to provide the required razzmatazz.
There may be those that find the choice of Company as a festive musical offering strange but for those seeking a witty, thought-provoking and ultimately uplifting evening of musical theatre, you would be harder pressed to find a finer production. It may not have chorus lines tap dancing but it offers some of the finest music, cleverest script and certainly the finest performances to be found on any stage.
As another Sondheim (Sweeney Todd) heads into the West End this is another show that could easily keep it company.
Originally written for The Public Reviews