Company is the latest dalliance with another Stephen Sondheim work from independent company Watch This (following Assassins and Pacific Overtures). Making marvellous use of that delightful theatre space three flights down at fortyfivedownstairs, it’s a slick, evocative, low-budget show that reaches high and scrapes the edges of excellence. But getting there wasn’t easy for a good part of opening night and, close to three hours later, the climb back to street level should have passed unnoticed.
Director Kat Henry never fails to work the stage adventurously and Michael Ralph’s delightfully cheesy choreography takes over with perfect delivery. But more could be done to extract nuance and lift the pace in this entertaining peek at love, marriage and plain good company.
The depth of talent on paper struggles to translate into seamless theatricality across the 14 performers. The wittiness of Sondheim’s lyrics came over but his great batch of songs were served glass half-empty on opening night and his music was dished up in erratic measure from the five musicians.
In this non-linear narrative based on George Furth’s book, a surprise party for Robert’s 35th birthday brings together his dearest friends, all married or coupled who entertainingly both tout and mock their coupledom as they lead towards Act II’s brilliant opening sequence ‘Side By Side By Side/What Would We Do Without You?’ Suddenly this chic New York pad resembles a nursery. Being married after all is not being grown-up.
The coupled women need to say “I love you” to their men who echo the words back compliantly, and they also worry about Robert’s single status. It’s 1970 and a sexual revolution has begun, but Sondheim’s observances suggest otherwise and being a grown-up single in doubt is verging on shameful or undesirable. Nothing much has really changed since, only the statistics.
Nick Simpson-Deeks sure can sing with tonal polish and outstanding gusto as he plays the bachelor boy Robert, way through to his final song, ‘Being Alive’. But the success-on-the-surface man he plays comes across on the wishy-washy side; an odd fellow with hands pocketed and confused as much about himself and perhaps his (metro)sexuality as he is of love. It rarely comes across convincingly that these are his dearest company of friends.
Even amongst his three girlfriends – Kathy (Madeleine MacKenzie), Marta (Bianca Baykara) and flight attendant April (who Carina Waye elevates with an endearing burst of radiant dumbness – Robert comes across clumsily. While he makes a poor case for being a grown-up single, he channels much of the irrationality of love for being anything but.
As Harry, John O’Hara gives a fine performance alongside Nicole Melloy, his wife Sarah. Act I’s karate demonstration in ‘The Little Things You Do Together’ is impressive and Johanna Allen is a hoot as the stoned, unknowingly innuendo-speak Jenny. As the sarcastic, smoking, third-time married Joanne, Sally Bourne shook off her unsteady start and gave Act II’s ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’ a good scathing. But nothing shines brighter than Robert’s trio of girlfriend all-sorts as they step out singing and dancing in ‘You Could Drive a Person Crazy’ with blastedly great fun.
Nothing is amiss with Eugyeene Teh’s well-considered set design featuring a sunken lounge-come-runway sofa and an icon of American design, Eames’s lounge chair and ottoman. Glowing gift boxes and a backlit scrim add detail and depth. Zoe Rouse’s costume designs work wonders in two eras, one that take us back to the dawn of the 70s when Company premiered, the other vaguely and contemporaneously hipster-friendly more than 40 years later. Rob Sowinski’s tenderly atmospheric lighting design is a knockout.
Perhaps it boils down to the short rehearsal period but the show would greatly benefit from a lift in tempo, attention to the music and a good feed on each other’s energy to get the buzz it needs. An end of season rush might be expected.