A group of men singing on stage
Musical theatre, News, Reviews

Bleak, brutal and bittersweet

Review: WAAPA 3rd year Music Theatre, Company ·
Roundhouse Theatre, WAAPA, 19 March ·
Review by Ron Banks ·

“What’s the point of getting married?” bachelor Bobby is asked by one of his many married female friends.

“Er, for company?” queries Bobby, uncertain of why one would commit to a lifetime with the same person, underlining at the same time the emptiness and loneliness of his own unmarried existence.

First performed in the early 1970s, Sondheim’s musical Company is now a timeless reminder that for many young people, getting married – and staying married – is a vexatious state of mind, and that the resolution of marital problems is never going to be easy.

The famous music theatre composer’s slate for the sketches that form Company is his home city of New York, a place where, it appears, hundreds of thousands of marriages go to die. Despite the slick New York night-clubs and bars, chic apartments and even the railway station that comprise its backdrop, Sondheim’s take on young relationships is bleak and bitter-sweet.

The play is a series of vignettes about young people who get married, the focal point of which is the one who does not get married. Bobby is a bachelor celebrating his 35 years in the single state with five couples who have opted for marriage as a resolution to the problem of curing loneliness. Love doesn’t seem to come into it, although they protest that it does. Well, these are cynical New Yorkers, you know, and this is a Sondheim scenario where too much sentiment is not good for you.

This WAAPA production is played in the round, an appropriate metaphor for these young couples as they circle around Bobby, trying to get him to get him to commit to marriage so he can be as unhappy as they appear to be.

Bobby has three girl friends over the course of the evening, but he is not really a seducer in the Don Juan league. Rather he is a confused young man who has not really found love and he backs out of relationships before they can get too serious.

We get to know more about Bobby through his interactions with his married friends, at the same time catching glimpses of his friends’ fears and foibles in regard to that particular state of legally-sanctioned relationship.

Conor Neylon captures Bobby’s personality and doubt with a convincing sense of confusion, and his delivery of the often-difficult Sondheim songs grows in confidence as the show moves through its many short, snappy confrontations.

This is a musical of set-pieces, with each couple showing what their lives have become in song, dialogue with Bobby, and the occasional spot of group choreography.

Each performer gets the chance to shine, and the graduating students make the most of their opportunities with style and pizzazz. Their outward sparkle is a poignant counterpoint to their characters’ inner insecurity and doubt. WAAPA director Andrew Lewis has wrangled their combined talents into a stylish ensemble. The costumes and settings are timeless, neither transposed to the present day, nor anchored back in the 70s. (The smart phones are the only disorientating clue that it might be the present.)

There is a stand-out performance from Annabelle Rosewarne as Amy, the girl who, on her wedding day, suddenly decides she does not want to marry Paul. She expresses her fears in a patter-song worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan but far more hip.

Company is famous for its song “Ladies Who Lunch”, delivered with convincing mockery and cynicism by Victoria Graves, as Joanne, whose marriage a second time is not going well.

Company is quite brutal in its dissection of modern marriage, but strangely fascinating and hugely entertaining in the hands of these young WAAPA performers.

Brutal yet honest.

But that’s the point of Sondheim, isn’t it? It’s why we love his work.

Company runs until March 23.

Pictured top: Conor Neylon, as Bobby, with the male ensemble. Photo: Jon Green.

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