Switching genders in the current West End production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company enriches the narrative, and makes the central character of Bobby both more plausible and more relatable.
Rosalie Craig is a strong presence on stage who sings with precision, power and warmth, characterising Bobby as someone trying to make sense of the crazed and crazy world that surrounds her.
In that way, Craig’s Bobby appears more authentic compared to male-led productions of the show. A woman looking on the awkward dysfunction of so many of her friends relationships makes the story (such as it is) more believable and engaging, possibly because it simulatenously distracts from the lack of a conventional story arc.
Rosalie Craig doesn’t overplay the pity or the craziness, leaving those around her to show their reality. In comparison to previous male-led productions I’ve seen, Rosalie Craig succeeds in playing a role in which the central character is a mediator between the story and the audience.
She also sings like a dream: incredible precision and warmth; able to deploy power only when its absolutely needed.
Jonathan Bailey (above, far right) brings remarkable energy to the stage for the pre-wedding meltdown his character Jamie embarks upon. I’m not entirely sure how Bailey has sustained that level of commitment (on a par with Imelda Staunton’s Rose in Gypsy, 2015) throughout the eight week run so far – it must be punishing. In ensemble numbers that energy melds well. On its own, I sometimes found it difficult to keep my eyes on the stage; I wasn’t entirely sure whether this was because of the brilliant characterisation or whether the character was being played a little too big for the space.
In amongst an entire cast of strong performances, Richard Fleeshman triumphed as an awkward but lovable Andy from the moment the air steward appeared from behind a doorway.
The character’s nervousness around Bobby subverted expectations and challenged assumptions. Instead of a male-lead pitying the stereotype of a ditzy female air stewardess, Bobby asserts control over the situation, taming the anxious Andy.
The deftly choreographed complex montage that follows whilst they’re in bed together reveals the complexities of Bobby’s character, her relationship with Andy and the influence her friends’ dysfunctional relationships have on her outlook. This mixture of passion, confidence, and vulnerability makes Rosalie Craig’s Bobby far more relatable.
A cohesive approach to production saw a beautiful melding of music and set design in the show’s defining number, setting a lounge-feel Ladies Who Lunch in a plausibly present-day setting. Sondheim royalty Patti Lupone undoubtedly raises the cheers amongst the musical theatre stalwarts throughout the show, but it wasn’t until her solo number that I felt she was giving me something that mirrored Rosalie Craig’s performance. The shift from the conclusion of Ladies Who Lunch to the remaining dialogue of the scene was a gratifying illustration of why Lupone is so revered.
There was only one element that needed tweaking. In ensemble numbers some of the mid-range of voices was subsumed in the mix of the live band, meaning that a lot of the diction and vocal articulation was lost in the accompanying music. Hardly a massive problem, I know. Not insurmountable either.
Honourable mentions to Gavin Spokes as Harry (your voice is gorgeous sir), and Matthew Seadon-Young whose beguiling Harry combined bewildered nerd with expertly contrived nonchalance.