Company. Sheffield Crucible. 14-12-11

Photograph: copyright Donald Cooper Photostage.

Bobby is about to turn 35 and beginning to wonder whether it may be time to find a new way forward and settle down. His friends are telling him so and he is becoming tired of  being a welcome guest at their homes, watching as they snipe, love, fall apart, and demonstrate by their example what is so wonderful and so appalling about being close to someone else. He has enjoyed being a handsome young bachelor in a big city able to play the field. It seems both a lot to lose and a lot to gain. He needs some answers. When he arrives home and finds out from his answer machine that his friends are planning a surprise party for him he starts on a process of discovery that ends with one of the most joyous songs ever written for musical theatre. Some have complained that Company has no plot, but of course that process of discovery which happens inside Bobby’s head is the plot. It is a collage of moments and memories which he looks back on as he waits, memories which he uses to make sense of where he has been in the past, where he is now, and where he might be going. His journey is one which we all have to make, one way or another, as we reach middle age and that is why a show that is forty years old can still touch our hearts and resonate so strongly. That is more or less the point in life that Sondheim himself had reached at the time he wrote it so he knew what he was talking about and this shows very clearly in the insight, experience and irony which he brought to the lyrics. The score is a virtuoso display of different styles and moods and contains a series of outstanding numbers from the gentle, introspective Sorry Grateful, one of the best songs ever written about marriage, to Another Hundred People which is both a hymn to New York and to the life which Bobby is afraid to leave behind. All of the numbers are an integral part of the storytelling and take the action of the show forward, showing us the characters rather than just commenting on them. Sondheim makes enormous demands on his performers, and not just musically. You can’t just sing his songs, you need to live them.

Photograph: copyright Donald Cooper Photostage.

For the 2011 revival at the Crucible theatre in Sheffield the artistic director Daniel Evans has gathered an extraordinary cast to play the friends and lovers who surround Bobby. They are a true ensemble working together beautifully and the whole thing zips along with great style and pace, immaculate timing and clearly defined sharp changes of mood. He has cast himself as Bobby and given that he won an Olivier award and was nominated for a Tony for his performance as George Seurat in Sunday In The Park With George nobody is going to complain about that. A British actor who is nominated for a Tony in an American musical needs to be very good indeed and he is outstanding as Bobby. It is a demanding part which needs an actor with a great musical theatre voice, charm and an ability to draw us into his world. If we don’t understand Bobby and feel for him there really is no show there to watch. Daniel Evans brings great warmth and commitment to the role, allowing the audience to follow him as he painfully and tentatively learns what he needs to know. Being Alive is a great song which has to be earned. It is the culmination of everything that has gone before and when we watch him sing it we are as thrilled as he is to know that he has found his answer. It is a great climax to the show, as it should be.

Photograph: copyright Donald Cooper Photostage.

As for the rest of the cast their strength really is in the way they work together as an ensemble, especially in the number Side By Side, but there are also some great individual moments. For someone of Samantha Spiro’s talent Amy is a gift of a part and she is both funny and touching as well as nailing the technical difficulties of Getting Married Today. Lucy Montgomery has a nice feel for comedy too in the number Barcelona and Ian Gelder, Damien Humbley and David Birrell are beautifully touching in Sorry Grateful. Rosalie Craig is full of life and energy as Marta and she was able to paint a haunting picture of New York in Another Hundred People as well as give us a believable portrait of a young girl in love with the city that she is a tiny part of.

The production is set in the 1970’s, as it has to be, and the set, designed by Christopher Oram, is lovely to look at. Bobby’s stylish but rather soulless loft apartment has a panoramic view of the city and the Chrysler building, and it is surrounded by a period evocation of  a seventies disco floor.

This is as good a production of a classic American musical as you are likely to see. Hats off to the Crucible! It deserves to move on to the West End but if it doesn’t I shall enjoy being smug about the fact that we were the ones who got to see it up in Sheffield.

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