Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Another Sunday, Another Sondheim!This time it was to see a concert version of Sondheim's 1970 groundbreaking musical COMPANY which reunited the cast members from the Donmar's 1995 production originally directed by Sam Mendes.

I must say from the off that COMPANY is a show that I find it hard to warm to - the score yes, the show no. The story - or non-story - of Robert arriving at his 35th birthday and being finally forced to confront his single status and commitment phobia has just never connected with me. The show was originally a series of one-act plays by George Furth and I have always felt that it has never managed to transcend that. The long and the short of it is - I can't be arsed about any of the characters, no matter how amusing they are.

I felt this performance wasn't as cohesive as last Sunday's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG which I guess is the fault of director Jamie Lloyd. I had hoped I was over my distrust of Lloyd and his more-speed-instead-of-haste approach after enjoying his production of PASSION but, opposed to Rob Ashford's MERRILY which had a depth and vibrant performances despite the concert setting, here it felt the actors had turned up, had read what was on the sheet in front of them and moved to where they were told to move to.

Some of the performers still managed to shine - Adrian Lester can still pull off the trick of making Robert a three-dimensional character and his singing of the classic BEING ALIVE was wonderfully vibrant and, yes, alive. He won the Olivier Award for this role and it's still easy to see why.

It was nice to see Rebecca Front and Clive Rowe as his married friends Sarah and Harry who are still sniping away at each other about his drinking and her eating fads, Gareth Snook as married man Peter was still clumsily trying to make a pass at Robert and the three girls who Robert is keeping hanging were very well played by Anna Francolini as the manic Marta, Summer Strallen as Kathy and Katherine Kingsley as air stewardess April.

To be honest, my main reason for wanting to see the show was to see Sophie Thompson again as Amy, the scatterbrained girlfriend of Michael Simkin's Paul who despite everything was NOT GETTING MARRIED TODAY. Once again Sophie stopped the show with the song and nailed the humour and the pathos in the scene following it.

Sophie was nominated for the Olivier Award for this performance but lost to co-star Sheila Gish who played Elaine Stritch's landmark role as Joanne, the hard-drinking, sardonic older married woman who has Robert in her sights.

Sadly Sheila Gish died five years ago - the show was dedicated to her memory - and it was stated "It’s our job to honour Sheila by getting somebody brilliant in that role" Somebody brilliant must have had her mobile turned off as we got Haydn Gwynne. She was o.k. but it would have been amazing to see someone like Frances Barber play it.

Gareth Valentine was again Music Director and did a fantastic job with a fine nine-piece onstage band in punching over Sondheim's constantly surprising score. Shame about that damn book.

And so endeth the year of Sondheim celebrations... unless someone would like to squeeze in a quick production of THE FROGS?

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