COMPANY is exciting, fresh and relevant

Further proof, if it were needed, there’s not a single theatre format that can’t be improved by the presence of Marianne Elliott. See: Angels in America / War Horse / Curious IncidentElliott & Harper’s gender-switch reinvention of Stephen Sondheim’s musical comedy COMPANY, will go down in West End folklore.

Knocked flat by this wonderful musical, I saw stars at the interval, five of them.

People are trying to work out why COMPANY is proving so insanely popular. Theories have ranged from Patti LuPone’s scene-stealing, Mel Giedroyc’s playful comic bravado, to Richard Fleeshman in tiny blue pants, without considering a more obvious possibility. All of the above.

The musical – ambitious book by George Furth, skilful music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim – is all about marriage and single life. But fifty years on from its Broadway debut – Elliot’s entertaining gender-switch reinvention enables a forensic and meaningful account of the pressures on modern women and female agency. Everything builds to an intriguing investigation of commitment, sexual desire and modern relationships.

Deeply brilliant Rosalie Craig absolutely nails the hardest role of reinventing Bobbie: a thirty-five-year-old, New York singleton. Craig’s performance is an unqualified success. Truly. She displays all the quick-fire shrewd observations to perfection and, like all great performers, can melt your heart in a flash. And she’s tailored in her vocal powers to the size of the Gieguld Theatre and the ascending glories of her two solo first act belters: ‘Someone Is Waiting’ and ‘Marry Me A Little.’

Patti LuPone – a Broadway legend of undiminished vitality and comic charm – plays cynical friend Joanne with mega-star sass. LuPone’s entrance at ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ is full of smack and billion-dollar relish. Her performance is out and out astounding and her jaded but larger-than-life persona is truly delicious. A dazzle to watch.

Patti LuPone

Patti LuPone

Elsewhere, Bunny Christie’s chic set is sensational. Lit in it in blue and red neon shades and Alice in Wonderland inspired, it all looks sleek. It’s all the more hypnotising, because clever casting and pure stagecraft is combined with an ability to tug at the heartstrings. This only serves as a reminder of what a great and distinctively talented team is behind this.

In a uniformly strong cast, Richard Fleeshman is hilarious (‘Barcelona’ = joyful) playing chiselled, nice-but-dim flight attendant Andy and Gavin Spokes delivers stirring pathos as Harry – when he sings ‘Sorry Grateful’ I burst into tears, it was kind of shattering. I love theatre that makes me burst into tears. As arrogant hipster PJ, George Blagden is alluring when he sings ‘Another Hundred People’, against a backdrop of two bleak carriages of commuters amid break-out moments of gorgeous movement. Moments later he is wheeled off on a park bench. Fun.

Liam Steel’s choreography is full of precision and shimmer – especially the storming Vaudevillian party game bat-shit craziness of ‘Side by Side’ – the full cast perform this with military precision and it is 100% excellent.

One of the things the show does very, very well – and often with a wry comic touch – is magic. Actual magic; the illusions, by magician Chris Fisher, are executed cunningly, drawing on sleight of hand – it is utterly theatrical. At one point, the female cleric (divine Daisy Maywood), pops up from the floor in a pink neon box, vanishes behind a door, moments later disappears into a fridge.

In ‘Getting Married Today’, originally a bride-to-be (Amy) delivers a nerve-jangling ode to second thoughts and is here invigorated by one frantic half of gay couple Jonathan Bailey. He is the twitchy gay groom Jamie (embodying monotone hysteria). Bailey’s lines are spat out at machine-gun momentum and with bullseye precision – this whole sequence is ingenious and it nearly stops the show.

Marianne Elliott’s superlatively reworked COMPANY never once lets the pace drop. And the results are vibrant; go, just go.

COMPANY is at the Gieguld Theatre until March 30 2019.

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