Aug 12 2017 | By More

★★★★★    Side by Side by Eusog

Paradise in Augustine’s (Venue 152): Sat 5 – Sat 12 Aug 2017
Review by Martin Gray

The ups and downs of Seventies singledom in New York in Stephen Sondheim’s Company make for an unmissable Fringe show for aficionados of musicals at Paradise in Augustine’s.

It’s New York man-about-town Bobby’s 35th birthday and his friends are throwing a surprise party. They’re all either married or engaged, making him the odd one out, and everyone has strong opinions on whether he should find a wife, or revel in singledom.

Company. Pic Eusog

Bobby thinks he’s ready to marry, but while he’s been dating three distinctive girls, he’d like a partner combining the best qualities of his various gal pals. You suspect that, basically, he doesn’t know what he wants. The party introduces a series of linked scenes showing Bobby with the five couples he adores, and the trio of potentials – will any of them contain the clue to Bobby’s fulfilment?

With music and lyrics by the incomparable Stephen Sondheim and book by the great George Furth, the Seventies-set Company is a musical with bite. Questions are raised about what makes for a good relationship – shared interests? Getting divorced but staying together? Dating other people? Or something else entirely?

In many musicals, you’re dying for the talky bits to be over with so you can get to the songs, but that’s less likely in Company – Furth’s vignettes, such as Robert’s visit to Sarah and Harry that ends with a hilarious karate battle, or April’s story about a cocoon – capture the attention.

Part of the reason the songs work so well is that Furth has already coloured in the characters with economy. They’re also some of Sondheim’s best, from the witty The Little Things You Do Together to the tender Marry Me a Little via the glorious Andrews Sisters pastiche You Could Drive a Person Crazy.

Sheer delight

As staged by Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group, they’re sheer delight. The large playing area offered by Paradise in Augustine’s allows the 14-strong cast to spread out, meaning the big Act Two number Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You? gets the treatment it deserves – the cast members can do the straw hat and cane bit without bashing one another.

The Company company. Pic Eusog

There’s more background dancing in this production than in most versions, enriching the main action rather than distracting – Bobby’s girls, Marta, Kathy and April (Holly Marsden, Elise Coward and Isabella Rogers), do an awful lot of legwork, and beautifully. But the actresses aren’t decoration: Marsden’s Another Hundred People has real pep, Coward’s goodbye scene rings true and Rogers is by turns comical and touching as a lovely stewardess who considers herself dumb.

In a show full of fascinating women, Rogers could easily steal the show, but this is an ensemble piece and the terrific cast members gel beautifully for the good of the production, and of the audience.

The most challenging number in Company – perhaps any musical – is the patter song Getting Married Today, in which neurotic Amy has a massive wobbly moment on her wedding day. Sung at dizzying speed, the lyrics could so easily trip a person up, but Kathryn Salmond enunciates superbly, and comically, making Amy’s near-breakdown a highlight.

perfect rawness

Other classics include The Ladies Who Lunch, a dry condemnation of society women, delivered with perfect rawness by Esmée Cook as Joanne, who’s on her third marriage, this time to the sweet, understanding Larry. As the latest husband, Charlie Ralph is extremely watchable, whether he’s dancing like a madman in a club, or indulging his waspish wife.

All the men do great work, with Joe Christie’s comic chops bringing Harry to marvellous life, and the other chaps – played by Henry Coldstream, Liam Bradbury and James Strahan – doing fine work. As for the rest of the women – Ellie Millar, Tilly Botsford and Jess Butcher – they’re all terrific performers, selling their characters, and numbers, with real charm.

Good as the supporting characters are, without a strong Bobby, Company would be dead in the water; happily, Ethan Baird is up to the task, selling the emotion of the ballad Someone is Waiting, leading the soft-shoe shuffle antics of Side By Side By Side, belting out the climactic Being Alive… He’s also an actor of some subtlety, knitting the differently toned scenes together with skill.

The band, led by musical director Sam Coad, do Sondheim’s score proud, while Grace Dickson deserves a big hand for tight, smart direction – every choice benefits the play.

Excellent staging and intelligent playing make this a Company to cherish. It’s not on for the whole Fringe, but with luck EUSOG will revive it for another run – any lover of musical theatre will get a huge kick out of it.

Running time: 2 hours 15 mins
Paradise in Augustine’s, 41 George IV Bridge, EH1 1EL (Venue 152)
Saturday 5 – Sataturday 12 August 2017
Daily: 9.30pm.

Tickets and details:


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