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Company - Wanneroo Rep

Reviewed by Paul Treasure

 

After cancelling almost half the season due to COVID and a perilously close bushfire, Limelight Theatre’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company has finally hit the boards and is a towering success. Gillian Binks and her team have put together one of the most sophisticated and mature productions Community Theatre has seen in a while.


Set amongst the Upper-middle-class Manhattanites of New York, the set and costumes are all in a range of black, white, and silver. This very effective and striking choice tells us that these are people with taste and the money to acquire that taste. But can money buy happiness?


The central character of this show, the 35-year-old bachelor Bobby, is surrounded by his married friends, and a handful of girlfriends. While he is the central character, and the link between all these other characters, he is not the main protagonist, rather he is the passive and dispassionate observer around which everything else happens. As the popular awareness of mental health issues has increased dramatically over the fifty-something years since the show was written, to a modern audience member Bobby is obviously a man battling with chronic depression. David Wallace, this production’s Bobby, has managed to bring this aspect out with fearlessness. Beautifully sung but with a painfully hollow lack of emotion, managing little more than a wry smile at his friends' antics. Desperately trying to find and maintain a connection that he thinks might ease his feelings of hopelessness. This leads to a searing rendition of Bobby’s final number “Being Alive”. Bobby is a difficult and complex character, but David showed a thorough understanding of the painful subtext and managed to make the character his own as few others have.


Bobby’s three girlfriends, first introduced in the trio “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” sang and played their parts with great comedy. Charlotte Louise as Marta, gave a charming rendition of her solo “Another Hundred People”. Erin Craddock, quite possibly Perth’s best portrayer of the stereotypical dumb blonde, was impeccable as the not-very-bright April, and her post-coital duet with Bobby, “Barcelona” was one of the highlights of the evening. Tatum Stafford was very good as Kathy, but it is a shame that her character’s real moment to shine, the interpretive solo dance number “Tick Tock”, was cut from the show. This character was originally written for Donna McKechnie, the original Cassie in A Chorus Line, so the number needs an absolutely phenomenal dancer to be able to pull it off, so it is often cut from Community Theatre productions. While I

understand the desire to cut the number, it does feel like it shortchanges both the choreographer and whoever plays the role of Kathy.


The first couple we really meet are Harry and Sarah, played by Andrew Brown and Genevieve Newman. Their main scene, involving an impromptu bout of karate, is hilarious and well-choreographed. Susan and Peter, as played by Aleisha Archer and Marshall Brown, delight in their couple of vignettes set on their balcony which overlooks the East River. As Jenny and David, Grace Johnson and Charlie Darlington share a wonderful scene where the two of them and David get high. The oldest couple on stage, Joanne and Larry, are played by Jane Anderson and Chris Bedding. Larry is often one of the least memorable characters in the show, often overshadowed by Joanne, but Chris Bedding’s charismatic portrayal manages to pull some of the spotlight his way. Joanne, the show’s oldest and most cynical character, gets a couple of numbers, Jane excels at the sarcastic “The Little Things You Do Together”, but her portrayal lacks the self-deprecating ferocity to really sell “The Ladies Who Lunch”.


The most technically difficult scene in the show features Amy and Paul, played by Madeleine Shaw and Ryan Dawson. On the morning of their wedding day, Amy gets cold feet, and we get the trio “Getting Married Today”. Ryan Dawson sings his lyrical tenor part with ease and a beautiful fluidity, the disembodied lyric soprano voice is sung with a crystalline clarity by Grace Johnson. This part has some very funny lines written in the lyrics that are often lost when sung by lesser singers. Grace, however, has the clarity of diction and the comic timing to land every one of these lines. The heavy hitter of the scene is Madeleine Shaw. Her part is not only one of the hardest parts written by Sondheim but also one of the most fiendish patter songs ever devised by man. Madeleine takes this patter at a crackingly fast pace, and a crispness of diction that would impress Gilbert & Sullivan or Rossini. Not a word was dropped, and the insanity of the song was matched only by the insanity of Madeleine’s acting. This is, quite frankly, one of the best renditions of this patter that this reviewer has ever heard.


There are few choreographers in Perth at the moment who seem to have the skill to take a dozen or so performers, get them to do entirely different things onstage, and yet have it appear as a coherent whole. This is a skill Connie Wetherilt has in spades. The choreography during “Another Hundred People” was astonishing and her ability to choreograph to the capacity of her cast can not be underestimated.


Sondheim is not an easy composer, and Taui Pinker managed the music direction excellently and his twelve-piece band were flawless. The original orchestrations for the show include a small group of pit singers whose wordless vocalisations punctuate the score. This is one of my favourite parts of the score, and it is a shame to have lost it for this production, but their absence did not actually diminish the rest of the production.


When it was first performed, Company was a ground-breaking and cutting-edge piece of musical theatre. Its absence of plot and concentration on character studies were unique at the time, and have rarely been imitated since. Director, Gillian Binks has more than risen to the challenge of George Furth’s vignettes and given us characters who are not only believable but three-dimensional and recognisable. Limelight’s production makes it seem as fresh, modern and if anything even more relevant today. An astounding piece of theatre that demonstrates that musicals are not all box steps and jazz hands.


The cast of "Company". Image provided by the theatre company.

Reviewer note: Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.

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