Theatre review: Company, Southwark Playhouse, London

Company by Stephen Sondheim
Southwark Playhouse
Company was one of Stephen Sondheim’s first musicals but, at the time, not one that was well received. Critics were unimpressed by the almost plotless story of New York bachelor Robert musing on his relationships and friends on his 35th birthday. Since then, it has been recognised as a genre-changing moment in theatre history and is now regularly produced by professionals and amateurs.

Joe Fredericks’ fantastic new production at Southwark Playhouse updates the story from its original location in 1970 to the modern day, opening with a radio DJ playing a track by Rihanna. Happily, we are with Sondheim for the rest of the show, with a talented cast bringing out every morsel of melody and irony in the book and lyrics. And, despite the opening and closing scenes locating it in 2011, we still have Siobhan McCarthy’s drunken Joanne paying tribute to the “ladies who lunch” while smoking in a New York nightclub.

The dark brick-walled space of Southwark Playhouse, underneath the railway near London Bridge station, emphasises the almost nightmare qualities of the dream-like piece, with Robert’s friends emerging out of the darkness to surround him or look down on him. Rupert Young is an impish and sometimes childlike Robert, teasing out an emotional depth to the character who mainly exists as a foil to the five different couples.

Accompanied by live music piped through from a six-piece band in another room, the cast includes some wonderful performances, from Katie Brayben’s “dumb” stewardess to Cassidy Janson as crazy Amy. Also notable are Laura Main, Adam Venus, Matthew White, Steven Serlin, Leigh McDonald and Julia J Nagle, but it is probably wrong to single out individual performances as this is a superb ensemble that makes this a highly memorable Company.

Amateur Stage magazine

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