Review for Renaissance Theatre Company’s production of ‘Company’
A last night privilege and pleasure to witness Renaissance Theatre Company’s fine production of ‘Company’ at St. Mary In The Castle.
Acting ensembles attempting Sondheim, require a very high level of dedication as well as ability, his work is notoriously challenging, both musically and dramatically, so success is only gained by the most willing and able of companies.
Renaissance Theatre Company are most certainly this and their production merits high praise for being both inspired in it’s direction by Mark Evans and in it’s enactment by a fine fourteen strong cast. The director drives his ebullient cast to perform with fervor, subtlety and aplomb. His clever use of the ornate space, that is limited for entrance and exits, see’s he whole company remaining on stage throughout.
The main protagonist of ‘Company’, a thirty-five year old New York bachelor called ‘Robert’, or ‘Bobby’ as he is affectionately known to his army of doting married or soon to be married friends, was originally penned by Sondheim in 1970. Perhaps now in 2015, Bobby, as a character, doesn’t strike quite the individualistic chord as forty five years ago. Nowadays, being a bachelor of any age in any major metropolis, hardly calls for the alarming urgency to get hitched as is the purveyance of ‘Bobby’s world.
Relationships are the main thrust of Sondheim’s work, a master at revealing the tragic/comic nuance underpinning many of our secret fears. trying to fit or not fit in is of no concern to Sondheim. Desiring the opposite and indulging the differences in us all, he calls on us to not be afraid and ultimately to flourish.
Through the eyes of ‘Bobby’, an audience is permitted to witness the honest unravelling of his friends relationships at their most private and public and loved by both women and men, we root for him on his odyssey to find love, ‘Alone, is alone, not alive’
Bobby’s plush NYC apartment is the mainstay setting, the show begins here with a full-company ecstatically celebrating his thirty-fifth birthday. Bobby, corralled by love, warmth and best wishes on a plush couch, the opening number culminates in a crescendo of fine ensemble singing and a group selfie.
Bobby is joined for drinks by Sarah and Harry in what has come to be known as the ‘Judo’ or ‘Karate’ scene. Sarah and Harry maybe a diametrically opposed couple, but they remain conjoined as a truly believable item. Genuinely carved characterizations created by the irrepressible and hilarious Tuula Ward as Sarah and Daniel Regelous , giving a self-assured and effecting performance as Harry, his ‘Sorry Grateful’ sung effortlessly.
Susan and Peter, are played honestly by Kerry Tollafield and Henri Hayler, with Peter, emerging comically as bisexual, or homosexual, surprising his pal Bobby, with a frank admission, that he would like their relationship to develop along a more sexual line.
Bobby then pot-smokes with the very laid back David, played with great truth and humility by late inclusion to the company Stephen Corke, one of Hastings most talented and loyal servants to the theatre. Jenny is also played with great spirit and a fair dose of bravery by Cathy Brown, they made for a very credible coupling.
Finally Bobby is given a break, and the void is brilliantly filled by Kim Sutton playing Amy. Her rendition of ‘Not Getting Married Today’ was as superb and her characterization. Her soon to be spouse Paul is played endearingly by David Wellman, an actor that maybe doesn’t come to certain aspects of the craft as naturally as others, but is watchable, and should he persist, will progress merrily.
‘The Ladies Who Lunch’, is now a classic song housed within a classic scene, the part of ‘Joanne’ who speaks/sings the song, needs an actress with generous amounts of gravitas, Maxine Roach doesn’t disappoint, and like the array of actresses who have taken on the role prior, maybe is not the finest singer but can act very well. This is the type of strong surviving female role that Sondheim is lauded for, and Joanne needs a foil of equal standing, and the selfless actor playing Larry, is played wonderfully by a ‘James Gandolfini-esque’ Michael Woodhams.
Marta (Imogen Amey-Haworth), Kathy (Jackie Hutt) and April (Sherri-Ann Fido), singing and dancing through their number ‘You Could Drive A Person Crazy’, grew from a tentative onset, into a robust and impish trio by it’s end. All three actresses worked very well in their individual scenes with Bobby, Imogen Amy-Haworth standing out as a roaring musical talent, as exampled by her perfect rendition of ‘Another Hundred People’, with the right mentoring and drive, she could become quite the complete actress.
David Baxter, the actor playing the man himself, Robert or Bobby, is obviously a man born to sing, and dance perhaps, judging by his balletic movement about the stage. This tended to make his Bobby a little too fey at times, and not the Lothario alluded to time and again throughout the piece, it is a part that calls for some machismo. Without that, the actor has to somehow make up for that lack of physical prowess with the fleshing out of the inner-life of the character and some genuine glint in the eye. ‘Bobby’ has to do a lot of acting in ‘Company’, he is called upon mostly to listen, react and interrelate, oftentimes silently, as he is the mirror by which the lives of all of his friends are exampled through. David Baxter’s ‘Bobby’ certainly sings well, having a fine register, but is too crooning and mannered for my taste. I am not sure if this was a microphone issue, but Bobby’s dialogue and personal journey was just not audible or considered enough for me to be left with anything other than respect for David Baxter’s singing ability. The barnstorming and unmatchable brilliance of ‘Being Alive’ that examples Bobby’s plight, usually brings one to a certain amount of lachrymosity, and maybe for some it did.
I am very grateful to be asked to write this review, the show is a great success and I have the utmost respect for Renaissance Theatre Company, having personal knowledge of it’s origins and benevolent nature and aims for the future. I am delighted to say that last night I saw a great company performing Sondheim’s, ‘Company’ and that gives me the utmost pleasure.