By Zoe Stevenson
Following his sell-out production of Les Miserables in 2016, director James Huish returns to the Grand Opera House with Darren Gardiner (of LSFX Productions who recently brought us the spectacular Ulster Orchestra/Lush Classical) to bring us Stephen Sondheim’s musical comedy – ‘Company - The Musical’.
There is always something magical in the moment where the lights dim and the curtains lift, giving us our first anticipated look at the theatre set in front of us. In Company, as the curtain lifts we are transported to Manhattan and catch our first glance of main character Robert, who is celebrating his 35th birthday.
Unable to think of a wish as he reluctantly blows out his birthday candles, ‘Bobby’ questions whether he should be happy with his own lot surrounded by his married friends - “these good and crazy people” – or if he should wish for his own romantic partner.
Company boldly premiered on Broadway in 1970 and was a comic take on the evolving nature of relationships amongst the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation as the growing ‘Hippy’ movement challenged the traditional marital status.
As the plot develops, we journey with Bobby to a series of dinner parties, first dates and meaningful conversations where he tries to understand the pros and cons of marriage from those “good and crazy” friends as well as making sense of his own persistent bachelorhood. The scene where Bobby unwillingly tempts his two best friends, Harry & Sarah, played hilariously by Meabh Quinn & Eamon Connolly, to fulfil their damaging vices before a karate showdown ensues is particularly entertaining.
These snippets of conversation offer an evocatively ambivalent study of marriage, perfectly displayed in “Sorry-Grateful” where three married men talk about the tug the contradictory impulses of marriage: “you’re scared she’s starting to drift away – and scared she’ll stay”, a theme which runs throughout the play.
Another favourite part is when Amy, an anxious and jittery bride (and one of Bobby’s best friends) desperately tries to cancel her wedding, to the dismay of a never-escaping nun. Spitting out the fast and furious “Getting Married Today” at astonishing speed, the audience was left in that belly-holding-tear-inducing laughter state that can only be brought on by great acting and great writing – something this play has in abundance.
Although Mark Tilley plays a character that is emotionally disconnected, there is no denying his magnetic ability to make the audience connect with him; and he plays Bobby’s character brilliantly.
His fierce portrayal of a confused character battling against himself as he questions what he is and what he wants to become is powerfully delivered in songs such as “Being Alive”.
Surrounded by a great group of supporting actors who each bring their own wild vocal attack (can’t not mention Marta here, played by Katie Shortt who delivered an excellent solo performance in the first act), the cast each give their own extraordinary performance.
George Furth’s quick quips & Stephen Sondheim’s dazzling songs about the challenges of dating, marriage and feeling trapped, flow in and out of each other in the form of ‘Bobby’ who perfectly portrays a man desperately trying to find the ending in his maze of emotions as he confronts his fear of commitment and the loneliness of being on his own. Ultimately, the story uses intelligent (and hilarious) humour to make us think about relationships, being vulnerable and “being alive”.
Put simply, Company is one of those fantastic grown up musicals that we can all relate to, we all have a ‘Bobby’ (or perhaps we are one) in our lives who, afraid to fully submerge themselves in the murky waters of commitment, timidly dip their toes instead in a desperate attempt to cling onto their freedom, unable to determine what it is they want, but constantly fighting the pressure to be stereotyped by modern society.
More information – including how to book tickets – can be found at: www.goh.co.uk/whats-on/companythemusical