The Queens Theatre, London, Matinee Sunday 7 November 2010
This concert staging largely involves the cast who appeared in the show some fifteen years ago at the Donmar Warehouse reprising their roles. However, there have been a few replacements along the way, resulting in the surprising appearances of Haydn Gwynne, Gillian Bevan, and Summer Strallen.
Opening with the title song Company finds most of the company on stage in a group. Apart from the obvious, our leading man Adrian Lester, a few others stand out, notably: Clive Rowe (because he is one of those performers who generally does), Haydn Gwynne (possibly because she is the tallest of the woman), and mysteriously distinctive woman in a sparkling silver-coloured dress. Sitting a long way back (row P) of the stalls, makes it difficult to spot individuals, and at first I wondered could it be Anna Francolini?
On to meeting the first of the showís couples. Sarah and Harry played by their original Donmar pairing of Rebecca Front and Clive Rowe. This gets the show off to a good start, he has a drink problem and she a food problem.
Presently we move on to the next couple Susan and Peter, also played by their original Donmar pairings of Clare Burt and Gareth Snook. Of the first three couples introduced their performance seemed to be the one that made the least impact. Clareís role of a sensitive woman who is apt to faint at the merest thing seems a world away from her Sondheim work at The Bridewell (as Senora Fosca in Passion Ė which she reprised for that theatreís farewell concert). Susan and Peter are on the point of deciding to get divorced, but ďhavenít told anyone yetĒ. Their lines have a certain amount of comedy to them, if only the actors had delivered them a little more memorably.† It must be very strange for the actors to be replaying roles they did fifteen years ago, for some of them a lot of water must surely have flowed under the bridge since then. The third couple, Jenny and David, make more of an impact. This time we donít have the original Domar pairing (of Liza Sadovy and Teddy Kempner), instead we have the woman in the silver dress, who turns out to be Gillian Bevan, teamed with Richard Henders. These two certainly make an impression, or at least Gillian does, playing the part of a woman who is stoned (and doesnít realise it).
Interspersed with this action
are of course the wonderful classic songs. So many of them are ones we
recognise from their numerous out of context performances in revues and charity
galas. Haydn Gwynne tackles the
first of these The Little Things You do Together with aplomb. She sings the
lyrics with excellent diction. She is ablely backed up by the rest of the
company, but it is she who makes this song very much her own, no matter who one
has heard do it! Which given that that numberís previous sensational
interpreters include Liz Robertson
(in the 1999
The rather little known Have
I Got A Girl For You is put across well by all five men Clive Rowe, Gareth Snook, Richard
Henders, Michael Simkins, and,
Adrian Lester gets to sum things up and reply to them with a song done a fair amount out of context Someone Is Waiting. Itís really good to hear this done for once in context, with the lyrics sung very clearly, as this means we actually realise that all the female names mentioned in it are in fact the names of Robertís married female friends, or the wives of his male friends.
On to another great classic number, often done in revues and galas Another Hundred People. Given how often it is done, and frequently done pretty well, it could be tough for any actress to actually make it truly her own. But this afternoon that is exactly what happens. Anna Francolini delivers this classic sensationally. Pouring her considerable experience of singing Sondheim into it. With her great stage presence, excellent singing voice, and overall talent she makes this number quite rightly one of the high spots of the evening, and gets great applause. In between parts of this song the other two girls from the trio also encounter Robert, with Marta meeting him last, only once she has finished the song. Itís an extraordinary song. Marta is an extraordinary woman, and this afternoon she is expertly played. A true triumph for Anna Francolini. One cannot forget that fifteen years ago, her performance in this show earned her recognition she might not otherwise have attained. (Things like getting a model locomotive partly named after her!).
Getting Married Today is yet another of those songs from Company
that keeps turning up out of context in revues, so it makes a refreshing change
to see it done totally in context. Although some of the out-of-context
performances have put ingenious twists on the song (Remember the obvious
ďconditionĒ of the ďbrideĒ in the 1999 Chelmsford production of Side
By Side By Sondheimís performance of this number). This afternoon Sophie Thompsonís performance is
clearly helped by the fact that she is one of the original members of the Donmar cast. Though I found her a
little irritating she was convincing as ďcrazy
AmyĒ, and delivers the major portions of this song perfectly
satisfactorily, and up to speed. Michael
Simkins seems to have aged somewhat, nevertheless this brings a certain
something to the number, making
Getting Married Today is something of a potential showstopper. One of the few problems with Sondheim musicals is that frequently leading actors are too often required to try and follow on from potential showstoppers, which perhaps explains that excellent though Adrian Lester is, his performance of Marry Me A Little does not make quite perhaps the impact it might have done had it not come so soon after Getting Married Today. By now the first act is beginning to drag, and I was just trying to remember whether or not Company actually has an interval (well Assassins doesnít have one, and Follies was not originally intended to have one). Fortunately however Company yields to convention and has an interval. Just as well because it being such a disjointed piece can make is a little tedious, even though it is stunningly well performed. Also I very much wanted to study the programme, so as to get a better of idea of who I was actually watching in which part.
Act 2 opens
with a brief sort of recap of key points that have gone before, or is it
another birthday celebration? Itís not clear. I did however notice that while
most of the couples were clearly paired together; with: Sarah & Harry
slightly to stage right of centre, Joanne & Larry in the centre, Amy &
One of the problems with classic show stopping numbers† is that they are so difficult to follow. Here it is followed by perhaps the least well known number in the entire score, Poor Baby. Is this ever done outside of Company? I donít think so. Fortunately we have such excellent ladies as Gillian Bevan and Haydn Gwynne among the ladies, as well as Clare Burt. But even so, in among so many well known songs the number fails to make much impression.
On to another great classic. Now it is long leggy blond Katherine Kingsleyís turn to tackle a number that a few musical theatre actresses have declined to do in galas, apparently because it is so associated with Julia McKenzie (with the result that Julia McKenzie was practically obliged to do it in the Side By Side By Sondheim 30th Anniversary Gala). I think the last time I saw this number done on stage was when it was given a hilarious performance in TheatreMADís Flaunt It 2008 gala, by two musical comedy performers who I can only describe as a right pair of muppets. A contrast to this afternoon, where it is done entirely seriously. The number is of course Barcelona. Oh yes Katherine Kingsley and Adrian Lester do of course sing it perfectly well. This is one song which even when done out of context is usually more or less given its context, all the same its still good to see it actually in the show from whence it came.
Robert encounters a drunken Joanne, alone while Larry is apparently cavorting on the dance floor. (We have to use our imaginations here). The scene, and Joanneís classic number The Ladies Who Lunch, which comes in the middle of it, reminds me that on the whole I am not keen on stage drunk acts. Although Haydn Gwynne is an excellent actress, and plays the part pretty well, she is impressive, somehow I just didnít really like it. But then Iíve seen very few drunk acts on stage that I actually did like (one from Louise Plowright in The World Goes Round, and several from Louise Gold including most recently in Darling Of The Day). Indeed perhaps part of the difficulty I had in watching Haydnís performance today is that after Louise Goldís tour de force (of Not On Your Nellie) in Darling Of The Day any stage drunk act was going to be a bit of a come down. However, just because I didnít particular like it doesnít mean it wasnít good. Haydn Gwynne is a fine actress, and her singing of The Ladies Who Lunch was very well done, with excellent diction. She is a good performer, who is clearly well able to tackle Sondheim. Itís certainly a treat to see a performer of her calibre in the Elaine Stritch/Sheila Gish role.
Finally Adrian Lester along with the company sing the poignant final number Being Alive. After which they all took their bows.
Well that should be the end of the show. But the cast had all done such a terrific job the audience, most of which was on its feet couldnít stop applauding. So the cast came on for a second bow. Or rather half of them, led by Anna Francolini came on from stage right, but the half from stage left took a while to appear, leaving Ms Francolini looking most bemused in the middle of the stage, until they finally appeared and everyone could bow together, and eventually retreat.
All in all a very special concert performance of Company. It was a terrific idea to try and reunite as many of the Donmar cast as possible. Adrian Lester, was a true star. Clare Burt and Gareth Snook were certainly interesting, in a couple of somewhat ironic roles. Best of all it is a thrill and a pleasure to see Anna Francolini relive the show that fifteen years ago first marked her out as one of the countryís excellent stalwart Sondheim performers. But of course fifteen years is a long time, and not everyone could be brought back for the show. However, the substitutes were generally good and seemed to fit in will with the rest of the cast. Gillian Bevan was quite amazing. The only other time I have seen her on stage was at the Regentís Park 70th Anniversary Gala, where she was very overshadowed. This afternoon she demonstrates what a fine steady musical theatre performer she is. Not exactly the kind of performer who would necessarily set the stage alight. But the sort of person who is very useful and necessary to musical theatre. A performer who can get the job done to a reasonable standard. By shear coincidence Iíve been reading up about her recently (and listening to her Wizard Of Oz recording), so itís nice to see her perform on stage, and do such a fine performance. Itís also great to see Haydn Gwynne on stage, Iíve only seen her on stage once before, and that was in a Shakespeare play. She certainly proved this afternoon that she can sing Sondheim rather well. Letís hope she does that more often.
Yes this matinee concert staging of Company is a performance to remember. And special thanks to that wonderful institution of a shop that is Dress Circle for their foresight in having one of their ĎTheatre Eveningsí to see it.