Sondheim repertory company Watch This have chosen arguably the composer’s most easily accessible musical, Company, for their 2015 production. First staged on Broadway 45 years ago, the story of singleton New Yorker Robert and the married friends who help him navigate his way to the realisation that he’s not only ready to settle down and marry, but that he’s in desperate need of a serious relationship, is as relevant today as it ever was.
This production, under the direction of Kat Henry, is a pretty traditional reading of the script which has seen other notable recent interpretations play around a lot more with the presentation. Although this diligence to the original script, rather than the 1995 revival update, is almost unique in itself, hanging on to Kathy’s dance solo and losing Robert’s ‘homosexual experience’ conversation with Peter seem like retrograde actions.
Whatever way you stage Company though, it’s always going to retain its wonderfully witty script and deliciously hummable score, full of some of the all-time classic songs of music theatre. Considering this, it’s a downright shame that the cast cannot see Musical Director Lucy O’Brien to ensure that the signature acapella elements are performed with precision. Further, the lack of audio amplification makes the balance of harmonies heard by the audience often decidedly uneven.
There are some great vocal performances however, particularly in numbers such as ‘Poor Baby’ by the wives and the duet ‘Barcelona’. Moreover, the close harmonies of ‘You Could Drive a Person Crazy’ by the trio of Robert’s girlfriends is a sensation. Carina Waye as April, Madeleine Mackenzie as Kathy and Bianca Baykara as Marta do a brilliant job of conveying Sondheim’s densely packed lyrics with Michael Ralph’s equally detailed choreography to create a captivating version of this popular number.
Ralph’s meticulous choreographic style is also evident in ‘Tick-Tock’ (Kathy’s dated dance number, stunningly performed by Mackenzie) and ‘Side by Side by Side’, which brings together the ensemble to demonstrate the breadth of their collective skills.
Following his stunning performance as The Balladeer in Watch This’ production of Assassins, Nick Simpson-Deeks is welcome casting as Robert. Certainly, he has all the requisite charm and a beautiful tenor vocal that makes numbers such as ‘Marry Me a Little’ just a delight to enjoy. A classic tenor voice isn’t really best suited to the role however, robbing it of the rich dynamics that come from having numbers such as ‘Someone is Waiting’ and ‘Being Alive’ being sung by a baritone who also has the range to hit Robert’s high notes. Simpson-Deeks’ timing is excellent though and he finds an easy naturalism that allows him to relax into each of his scenes and put the audience at ease.
There is a missing element in Henry’s direction regarding Robert’s emotional trajectory however. The feeling that Bobby is kidding himself for the bulk of the show is never quite clear, and his emotional revelation at the finale feels subsequently disconnected from the core truth of the story.
While Robert does describe the couples around him as “Good and crazy people, my married friends!” Henry’s direction seems to have taken the ‘crazy’ quite literally, making for some not only neurotic New Yorkers, but some truly manic characters in desperate need of medication. From the buzzing interpretation of ‘Side by Side by Side’, to Sonya Suares’ scattershot performance as runaway bride Amy, the twitchiness of this production is disconcerting at times, making the quiet moments of ‘Poor Baby’ and ‘Sorry-Grateful’ longed-for relief. Although the complete mashing of the musical accompaniment of the latter song would make you wish that the trumpet had been cut from the band.
Of the couples, Mark Dickinson and Johanna Allen as David and Jenny stand out for their beautifully balanced performances. While it makes more sense for Jenny not to be quite so ‘stoned’ based on David’s comments about her smoking pot ‘for him’, Allen is hilarious in her intoxication and Dickinson takes a deeper, more philosophical view on David. Nicole Melloy is, as always, a brilliant comedienne and finds every last drop of humour to be squeezed out of the diet-obsessed, karate-loving Sarah. Meanwhile Carina Waye gives Melloy a run for her money, landing all of Amy’s brilliantly dippy dialogue and gives a superlative take on her butterfly monologue.
Both Costume Design by Zoe Rouse and Set Design by Eugyeene Teh, straddle an interesting mix of modern looks with 1970s design aesthetics. Considering the throwback to the original script, this ‘foot in both camps’ feeling works quite well. Lighting Design by Rob Sowinski is emotive and complements the blue-green tones of Teh’s set nicely.
If you’re not overly familiar with Sondheim or Company, then this production is not to be missed, however those well acquainted with this favourite of musical theatre may find this version harder to completely enjoy.