A little bite of the Big Apple in Sutton Coldfield – ‘Company’, the latest offering from Sutton Arts Theatre, is an evening of musical theatre to transport you to New York, courtesy of the late great Stephen Sondheim.
Staging any Sondheim show is a huge undertaking and ‘Company’, a concept musical with no linear plot, must be one of the most challenging. Directed by Emily Armstrong and Dexter Whitehead, this production delivers an enjoyable night of theatre getting to know Bobby, a committed singleton, and his host of ‘happily married’ (or soon to be) friends.
Bobby is turning 35 and a not so surprising ‘surprise’ birthday party is the trigger for a series of short vignettes which force him to reflect on life, love and commitment. His friends are so keen to see him join the marriage club but Bobby isn’t so sure. The songs from the various couples build a funny and hugely relatable picture of the messy complexity and contradictory joy of human relationships.
Aarron Armstrong-Craddock is an understated Bobby: he gives a mildly melancholic performance of this central role and his reluctance to commit in matters of the heart is entirely believable. His connection to his various coupled friends is less convincing at times but the final solo (‘Being Alive’ – a brilliantly written song in which the bachelor finally seems open to the risks of allowing himself to love and be loved) is delivered with power and passion.
The trials and tribulations of dating, marriage and divorce are brought to life by a talented cast of married or engaged couples. Joanne and Larry (Liz Berriman and Alan Lowe), Susan and Peter (Michelle Dawes and Richard Millward), Sarah and Harry (Louise Farmer and Mark Nattrass), Jenny and David (Laura Hinton and Tom Cooper) and Jamie and Paul (Robbie Newton and Paul Atkins) bring life to a rich spectrum of relationships. All human life is here from the ‘sorry-grateful’ pain and joy of partnerships to the ‘little things’ which knit couples together.
April, Kathy and Marta (Bobby’s three girlfriends – Georgina Kerr-Jones, Sophie McCoy and Terri Ann Ashford) unite nicely in their anger and disappointment at his reluctance to commit in the Andrews sisters-style ‘You Could Drive a Person Crazy.’ But the highlight of the evening comes in the second half: Liz Berriman’s belting performance of ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’ is delivered with powerfully angry and mocking bitterness.
And the live orchestra is a real treat, playing Sondheim’s tricky score with great gusto - see them tuning up by the bar when you buy your pre-show drink. Highly recommended - take a bite from the Big Apple and head down to Sutton Arts for a musical comedy treat.
‘Company’ is playing at Sutton Arts Theatre from 26th May to 4th June 2022.