Company follows the perennial bachelor Bobby (Steve Nicholson) through the lives of his married friends and his own various entanglements. Youthful, charming but somehow unfulfilled, with three girls on the go, Bobby puzzles over the appeal of marriage. He can see how his neatly-coupled friends argue, squabble, impose restraints on each other’s lives, misunderstand each other or understand each other all too well. So why, despite himself, does he feel increasingly drawn to marriage? Will he too give in to this perplexing desire to pair off?
The first act is a series of self-contained scenes: the dieting wife and husband gone teetotal, both willing the other to snap first; the apparently perfect couple announcing their divorce; the parents seeking a moment of youthful escape in the middle of their tired daily lives. Fran Watson punctuates these vignettes with attitude with her song ‘The Little Things You Do Together’. Emma Vieceli gives a convincingly frantic performance as Amy, the bride-to-be having second thoughts on the morning of her wedding.
These scenes are fantastic comic stand-alones, with larger-than-life characterisation and well-judged timing (special mention must go to Gabi Fletcher and Marshall Leek for their smoothly choreographed karate showdown). Each one is varied and genuinely funny, and the mixture of flippancy and emotional subtext adds the complexity of never knowing how much to laugh, keeping the audience on their toes. However, there is also a slight feeling of aimlessness to the first half. Because many of the characters are so highly caricatured, and because Bobby himself is rather passive, it takes a while to become invested, and not all the songs feel ‘earned’.
The show really picks up pace in the second half, as Bobby becomes more emotionally involved. The progression of his relationship with the delightfully airheaded April (Catriona Clarke) teases us with the promise of significance. Fran Watson steals the show as Joanne, now on her third marriage, jaded and cynical. Her scene with Bobby lifts the play from humorous but detached observational comedy to real emotion and complexity. Her bleak and bitter performance of ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’ is this production’s finest moment.
Production design is simple but effective. The set is minimal and stylised, with evocative colour choices. The production makes some interesting uses of the space on stage, with frequent split-staging and scenes confined to one side of the stage suggesting that the participants are trapped. I would have liked to see more visually interesting and meaningful use of choreography in the first act, which was prone to become a bit static or repetitive at times. However, the dialogue sections of the play were really polished and I was impressed by the energy and commitment with which every member of the cast attacked their roles, however absurd. There was a good buzz in the theatre for a first night. This is an entertaining, humorous and surprisingly thought-provoking show, which left its audience with lots to talk about.
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