I first discovered the musical Company when I was at university. When I heard the song ‘Being Alive’ I wanted to jump inside it and give it a big cuddle. As a single student with a sense of ‘what the hell next’, it seemed to speak my wishes, like the candles on the cake that protagonist Bobby blows out. I thank my lucky stars that, in 2005, YouTube was fresh on the scene - I snacked on musical theatre videos between essays, sobbing at Adrian Lester’s rendition of the song, and swooning over John Barrowman’s. I sang the song in a student concert that I produced, pretty much with the sole purpose of being able to sing the song.
Now, as a married parent in my thirties, the song, and indeed the whole show, have taken on new meanings and resonances. Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company explores several relationships through the lens of the central character Bobby, who is celebrating a 35th birthday. ‘Being Alive’ is the closing song of the show, and the moment Bobby declares that he wants to find somebody to love, that ‘alone in alone, not alive’. It’s at once beautiful, and wistful, and dreamy, and even a little heartbreaking. In the show, it stands as a sort of birthday wish for Bobby. For the audience, it’s really a insight into a very human desire for ‘real’ connection - not a fairytale magazine cover love, but the type of complex partnership that exists in the couples that surround Bobby, and in every family home across the country.
When I saw Marianne Elliott's London production recently, this time with a female Bobbie expertly expressed by Rosalie Craig, I couldn’t take my eyes from the stage. There is so much familiar to us all playing out in the show, and you could feel the audiences’ excitement, delight, and pain move with the show. The themes of identity, companionship and purpose ring even more true with a lead character played by a woman. The pressures of solving the puzzle of finding and maintaining a successful relationship seem even more urgent given a biological clock, with hoards of friends sympathetically throwing phrases like ‘poor baby’ around. This production really made me think about the way society approaches relationships, and our own expectations of them.
You see, this musical, nearly half a century old, speaks to all of us, through the lens of this new production.
Starling’s co-director Anna sums it up perfectly in this tweet:
If you’re reading this and didn’t have the same Company YouTube binges as me and thus know nothing about the show, please don’t let that put you off going. You only need to know a little about life to be swept up in it. Plus you get to see theatre legend Patti LuPone being amazing.
Get a ticket and enjoy an evening laughing, crying and perhaps even making discoveries about yourself. Because this musical makes us think about what is it to live, not just to be alive.
Company is booking until 30th March 2019. Tickets are available here.
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