Review / Strong cast in good ‘Company’

musical theatre / “Company”. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, directed by Jordan Best. At The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, until October 24. Reviewed by Bill Stephens

'Company' cast, photo Andrew Finch

‘Company’ cast. Photo by Andrew Finch

ALTHOUGH premiered in 1970, Stephen Sondheim’s angst-ridden, forensic examination of marriage and relationships still offers much to intrigue contemporary audiences and challenge the actors performing this work.

His music is demanding while his lyrics require perfect articulation and phrasing.

Everyman Theatre has picked up the challenge with its much anticipated new production of “Company”, which opened in the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre last night.

Working with a strong cast of many of Canberra’s most experienced music theatre performers, director, Jordan Best has made many bold directorial decisions with her production, not all of which succeed.

The storyline revolves around the character of Bobby, played with panache by Jarrad West. A group of his married friends, pre-occupied with the fact that Bobby remains unmarried, hosts a surprise 35th birthday party for him. Through a series of revealing vignettes, the flaws in each of their marriages are exposed and, despite their best efforts to encourage Bobby to take the plunge, the musical ends with Bobby no nearer to making a decision.

None of the characters in the musical are admirable, and the challenge for the director and the actors is to make the audience care about them. By playing Bobby as a pot-smoking, cocaine-sniffing voyeur, West has upped the ante for this challenge. There is little indication that his character really cares for any of his friends nor his three girlfriends. Indeed, despite much back-slapping and tacked-on, over-animated smiles, there is very little evidence that his friends really care for him.

Sondheim’s carefully constructed songs work best with a “less is more” approach. Karen Vickery understands this, so that her brilliantly judged performance of “The Ladies Who Lunch” becomes a highlight. Similarly, Amy Dunham manages to bring surprising warmth to the usually fatuous character of the air hostess, April, for “Barcelona”.

Among other highlights is the cleverly staged karate demonstration by Sara and Harry (Jordan Best and Will Huang) and a scene in which Jenny and David (Helen McFarlane and Max Gambale) experiment with pot.

Elsewhere, Vanessa De Jager’s interpretation of Marta as an unsuccessful busker, imposed a subtext which distracted from the all-important lyrics of “Another Hundred People” and the manic “Not Getting Married”, usually presented as an inner dialogue between Amy and the audience, loses much of its poignancy when shared with the whole congregation, as Laura Dawson does in her interpretation.

Riley Bell, Philippa Murphy, Jerry Hearn and Tim Sekuless, as various of Bobby’s friends, all contribute strong performances.

Choreographer, James Batchelor has provided eye-catching movement for the ensemble scenes as well as an arresting dance solo for Michelle Norris.

Michael Sparks’ attractive setting of white, hanging windows allows smooth scene transitions, however the positioning of Tim Hansen’s excellent band directly behind the action, in full view of the audience, too often provides unwelcome visual distraction, especially when Kelly McGannon’s lighting design exposes the vastness of the stage.

Stephen Sondheim writes sophisticated musicals for adults and this production is certainly that; so if you are thinking of taking the children, be aware that the drug and sex scenes are uncommonly explicit.

 

 

 

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