first night


Pritham Bhatia reviews DULOG's first show of the year, Stephen Sondheim's "Company"


DULOG’s controversial decision to stage a musical rather than it’s flagship Gilbert and Sullivan as its first production of the year has been met with both praise and criticism. However, one cannot leave Company without feeling that this is what DULOG delivers best: an accessible and high standard of musical theatre…and with the almost full house and rapturous applause of the audience, it was a success.
Deciding to stage ‘Company’ in the matter of a few weeks was an ambitious project, being notoriously difficult to sing, choreograph and direct, as Stephen Sondheim and George Furth provide a complex commentary on relationships and human nature juxtaposed against the mechanical anonymity of New York City. Focussed through the eyes of Bobby, the difficulty of finding love or allowing yourself to love is analysed through the marriages (and one divorce) of Bobby’s friends, as a rather unusual series of vignettes, ditching the standard linear book formula reserved for musicals, and adopting a more maverick approach to your bog-standard musical.
Director Ollie Lynes had the unenviable job of transposing the New York skyline, and these vignettes involving uncomfortable subjects such as questioning sexuality and smoking weed into the restricted space of the Assembly Rooms. Although there were slight problems with the blocking and fitting the entire cast onto the narrow stage at times, the good use of stage blocks and seamless scene changes maintained the pace of the show and created an effective metropolis. Whilst set design by Grace Woods and Florence Vincent was aesthetically appealing, there seemed to be a slightly wonky Empire State Building at its heart. As to production design, sensitive lighting complemented the hollow, monochrome visuals, with interspersed splashes of primary colour in costume to inject eye-candy and character into the performance.
Michael Shaw played self-conflicted Bobby with charisma, ease and instant likeability, and although he had trouble with his diction and the strength of his singing in his solo “Marry Me A Little”, his acting skills allowed him to convey a multitude of emotion in the epic musical soliloquy “Being Alive”, leaving few audience members with dry eyes, and drawing to a close Bobby’s journey with a lasting sense of catharsis.
Although the score is technically very challenging, Musical Director Joanna Cichonska must be commended for the tight harmonies in minimalist and chromatic ensemble pieces such as the initial number “Company’, as well as her work with the solo numbers. Special recognition must be given to her work with Niamh Murphy as “Amy”, for the incredibly loquacious “Getting Married Today”, being able to showcase her vocal skills with a terrific neuroticism, contrasted with Alex Walshaw’s beautifully modulated vocal interjections.
However, the highlight of the show came with the sexy Andrew’s Sisters’ inspired “You Could Drive A Person Crazy”, with an outstanding lead vocal and dancing by Rebecca Collingwood, and a fabulously quirky Laila Jabr and suitably air-headed Felicity Jackson with complementing tight harmonies. Madeline Mutch’s engaging yet effortless choreography presented the perfect blend of sass whilst retaining the more sombre tone of the musical, and I applaud her humorous puppetry references and the tap dancing in the big dance number “Side-by-Side”.
Notable supporting performances came from Ben Salter, portraying the sexually confused “Peter” with surprising realism and poignancy, whilst Sarah Shephard assumed the mannerisms of a self-confessed “food voyeur” with great comic timing and gusto. Impressive kung-fu moves were also appreciated from Tom Garnett and Sarah, whilst Nikki Jones gave a spectacularly intoxicated performance as the stoned but “square” Jenny, exclaiming many ridiculous profanities to the delight of the audience.
All in all, Company was a pleasure to watch, with a cast that performed greatly as a whole and seemed to love simply being on stage. Roll on the Gala Show!

6 February 2009

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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