GROWN-UP SHOW REVIEW: Company (Gielgud Theatre)

Mummy appreciates that she is very late to this party. On which note, Mummy would like to make it abundantly clear that nobody should ever throw her a surprise birthday party. She would also like to take this opportunity to apologise to the colleagues to whom she did not give her undivided attention last Wednesday morning, because she was busy bashing away at the TodayTix app to secure a rush ticket for Company. On the other hand, Mummy did manage to convince herself that acquiring tickets to a gender-swapped production probably counts as an appropriate thing to do during a meeting of the office Equality and Diversity Committee.

Conscience clearish, Mummy headed off to see Company on Wednesday night, leaving Mrs Mummy in charge of the Munchkins. As is now customary, Mrs Mummy had already been to see it by herself the night before. Mummy did appreciate the irony of attending a show called “Company” alone, although perhaps that was actually appropriate given that the protagonist is a singleton. This did make Mummy wonder how well she would relate to Bobbie, beyond sharing her feelings on birthdays. Mummy and Mrs Mummy are also approaching their mid-30’s, but have been together since secondary school and therefore entirely bypassed the dating minefield of which their friends tell tales. Maybe then we weren’t supposed to see ourselves in Bobbie, but instead in one of the dysfunctional married couples with whom she associates. Turns out, nope, even in an updated modern telling of Company there is no room for the stereotypical “U-Hauling” lesbian couple who live in boring bliss with their army of cats.

So did Company live up to the hype? Mummy headed to the Gielgud worried that she might turn out to be the lone voice of dissent amidst a sea of five star reviews. Her Twitter feed is full of people trying to squeeze in their final viewings of this groundbreaking, award winning musical. People who claim to have sobbed through a show that speaks to them like no other. Was Mummy in good company? Not exactly. Mummy got it, she thinks. But it didn’t get her. It was incredibly entertaining but Mummy just felt that there was something missing that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Almost a week later (a week during which Mummy has had the London cast recording on repeat) she is still wondering what it was. Maybe it was the hype. Maybe it was the view from the dress circle (although Mummy actually thinks she has been converted to sitting there) but Mummy just didn’t quite connect with Company in the way that so many others seem to.

The view from Mummy’s seat in the dress circle

Objectively though, Mummy can see why it speaks to so many people. And not just the sort of people who appreciate Richard Fleeshman in tiny pants. Both Mummy and Mrs Mummy were reminded of a particular friend when watching it. A nearly 35 year old single lady friend, whom Mummy swears she will never quiz about her love life again. We both agreed that the score was Sondheim at his most sublime, the lyrics as deliciously wordy as ever. We also agreed that the cast was superb, the show was hilarious in places (that tiny pants scene in particular!) and the staging was slick. Mrs Mummy actually wondered whether it might have been too slick and if this is what created the slight disconnect. Mummy really liked the staging but felt that the production was still missing “that moment”. She assumed that this moment was coming when she heard the familiar melody of “Being Alive” but it didn’t quite do it for her.

That being said, Mummy appreciated Rosalie Craig’s performance of this song. Her understated interpretation gave a sense that Bobbie was finally starting to engage with the questions she had been avoiding for so long, but stopped short of suggesting that she had settled upon the answers. And that’s what Mummy thinks was so clever about this production. It gave the audience a window into the societal pressure on women to marry and have children, but left them to reach their own conclusions. What do people want to get married for? Does Bobbie really not want to settle down or is she just afraid like commitment-phobe Jamie (Jonathan Bailey, who almost stole the show with “Getting Married Today”)? Are her friends right that, despite Bobbie’s many reasons for not being with someone, she cannot give them one good reason for being alone? And, perhaps more importantly, are they right to require a reason at all?

Mummy wonders whether the elusive missing thing was a resolution. Just as Bobbie doesn’t do what society expects her to do, nor does Company play by the rules of a story. So we don’t see Bobbie settle down with a nice man. Nor does she U-haul with a nice lady and her army of cats. She doesn’t even stand up to her friends and tell them to mind their own business.
She simply checks out and leaves everyone guessing. Ultimately, whether or not Bobbie wants to remain single is a question for her alone. And not even the audience gets to find out the answer.

The production works so well with a female lead that you wouldn’t know anything had changed if you weren’t already aware. In fact, Mrs Mummy had no idea before going in that Bobbie was originally written as Bobby. The changes (some consequential on Bobby becoming Bobbie, and others an active choice, such as Amy becoming Jamie) seamlessly turn a 1970’s musical into a commentary on contemporary relationships. Even the traditional orchestra pit was turned on its head, with the band sitting high above the stage. This was a great touch, which is probably what convinced Mummy that she doesn’t mind the dress circle. Admittedly uninfluenced by any previous productions, Mummy thinks that the changes worked brilliantly. And although she won’t manage to catch this particular production again, she is now very keen to see Company as written. In the meantime, she plans on continuing to listen to the London cast recording for the foreseeable future.

Mummy has found this review hard to write, because she hasn’t been entirely sure what to think. But on reflection she thinks that’s probably the point. Company may not have got Mummy in the way that it did for others but it was never going to. Just as there is no right answer to the questions posed in Company, there is no right way to appreciate the show itself. And just as every Sondheim score grows on Mummy the more she listens to it, so too has this production grown on her the more she thinks about it. And for that, she awards it a rating of raindrops, whiskers, kettles, mittens and brown-paper packages (aka five out of five of my favourite things.)