Company

Fri 10th – Mon 27th August 2012

reviews

Claire Dalling

at 00:08 on 12th Aug 2012

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It took about 35.7 seconds for me to decide that I would give One Academy Production’s ‘Company’ a five star review. This is a show that positively reeks of professionalism, and one that made me feel immediately safe and relaxed: I knew the next 2 hours 29 minutes 24.3 seconds were going to be musical theatre gold. And I was right.

Despite being a massive musical theatre geek, I must confess to not being at all familiar with this production. For those who are similarly ignorant, the plot goes a little like this: Robert is 35 and unmarried, something that is of great concern to his ten married friends. Despite having three girlfriends, he has no desire to settle down. The plot is made up of his visits to each of the couples, and come, like multiple-choice answers, in no particular order. It is Stephen Sondheim at his most bizarre, and flits between being a scathing critique of societal expectations and a touching story about the basic human need for companionship. One Academy certainly hasn’t chosen an easy option.

This is probably because they know they don’t need to, for this is an immensely talented cast who make most Fringe performers look decidedly amateurish. What makes this musical interesting, despite its lack of classic numbers or decipherable plot, is that every single person on stage has a named part, complete with distinct and vital characteristics. This, combined with Dominic Hill’s directorial decision to keep all members of the cast on stage at all times, means that every single actor must be in character from start to finish, even when sitting in semi-darkness at the back of the stage. Quite frankly, they make it look easy. The same is true of the singing: at times each person has a different part, but they make even the most complicated harmonies and polyphonies seem like a piece of cake - simple and delicious.

Perhaps the main thing that sets this production above many others is the sheer intelligence of its direction. Having to arrange fourteen bodies on stage for an entire musical is not a small undertaking, but Hill uses the opportunity to impressive contextual effect. Robert is always centre stage, with the supporting characters coming down stage to surround him. It is easy for the audience to see how suffocated he feels, as everyone seeks to help and advise. Douglas Walker’s portrayal is both complex and relatable, and he is so engaging that when he cries – real tears, by the way – the audience wants to comfort and cry with him.

The cast is well supported by the band, which somehow manage to be absolutely together despite being scattered around the stage. The lighting is similarly flawless, as are the costumes, which convey character, and link couples, without being too obvious.

‘Company’ was a joyous end to my time at the Fringe, and proves that there is true, trained, talent waiting to be unearthed.

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Emma Yandle

at 09:29 on 12th Aug 2012

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'Company' is a musical about people and how to live with them. As Bobby turns 35, quite content with his bachelor lifestyle and three girlfriends, all his married friends try to convert him to the joys of matrimony. As he goes from house to house he sees little vignettes on marriage, the happiness and the compromise of living your life with someone else. With music and lyrics from the eminent Stephen Sondheim there's nothing bad about this production, but it wasn't particularly thrilling. This is partly the fault of Sondheim who explained that he wrote a musical about upper-middle class problems in order to subvert the trope of escapism in musicals. So it's not the cheeriest of topics and perhaps more clever than a must-see.

One Academy Productions however did a great job of bringing to life quite a difficult piece. They were strongest in their ensemble work with choreographer Lynne Bustard and director Dominic Hill cleverly having the whole cast on stage throughout the 2 and a half hours, as an amusingly looming presence to Bobby who seems fed up of everyone knowing just the right girl for him. Douglas Walker was charismatic and appealing in this role and perfectly cast as the kind of guy most girls want but don't seem to get, to quote the script. Some soloists were a lot better than others, although Sondheim doesn't exactly make numbers easy for his singers, favouring very fast delivery and difficult melodies. Kylie McMahon must be credited for her performance of the ridiculously quickfire 'Getting Married Today'.

Certain numbers had some sweet juxtaposing lyrics that seemed based, in my limited experience, right in the reality of relationships. Others were clever and truthful, with the final number 'Being Alive' interjected by the comment: 'You've got so many reasons not to be with someone, but not one reason to be alone.'

On the whole the company were a little shy of West End quality, particularly let down by sloppy synchronicity in their final number. But this was a wonderful theatre to see a musical in, up close and personal thanks to a Fringe-sized venue.

A lot of the packed house seemed to be couples and I'd wager that it's a musical best seen in a pair. As a sort of musical couples' therapy, I don't quite know if it would make or break a marriage but it would certainly be topical.

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