Company

Date 1st December 2014
Society University of Manchester Musical Theatre Society
Venue Council Chambers, Students Union
Type of Production Musical
Director Noa Nikolsky
Musical Director Ollie Thompson & Kieran Enticknap
Choreographer Sophie Handley

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

Originally a collection of one-act plays written by librettist George Furth, ‘Company’ was eventually shaped into a musical thanks to the vision of legendary director Harold Prince. At Prince's suggestion, Furth reworked these one-acts into a libretto examining the pros and cons of marriage. To tie all the pieces together, Furth – last of all – added the character of Robert to link his couples together, a bachelor whose 35th birthday party provides the occasion to bring all of Furth's twosomes together at the opening of the play. Everyone but Robert is married or engaged to be so, and they are all eager for their bachelor friend to follow in their footsteps, but Robert isn't quite ready to take the plunge. With the addition of Stephen Sondheim to the creative team, ‘Company’ —the first of the Sondheim/Prince shows—laid the foundation for the post-Golden Age of Broadway musicals.

This piece has the potential to work perfectly in an intimate setting, though the biggest problem here was the lack of directorial vision and influence. Firstly, and my biggest bugbear was; if you want actors to mime props, they need to mime all of them, not just some. It’s quite bizarre to have actual props and then some mimed (that says to me that the props team couldn’t find everything required which, given what props were actually missing, I find hard to believe). But what I find to be even more obscure is to have half and half; if you’re going to pour a drink and then drink it, why would you have a decanter and a glass then mime the liquid? This only makes your actors look absurd, making a mockery of what they’re actually doing - and it did.
The director also needed to research how to direct and stage theatre in this style of setting as sightlines and masking was quite an issue on a number of occasions resulting in me (and several others around the auditorium) missing a fair amount of the action.
The most impressive aspect of this production, directorially, was the casting – unquestionably, the ideal members of UMMTS were matched to the perfect roles.

Playing the central character of Robert (Bobby) was Cillian Donaghy who portrayed a charming Robert with the most celestial vocals. Cillian, quite naturally, took the role in his stride presenting an effortless performance which was relaxing, inviting and warm-hearted.
For me, the breath of fresh air in this production were the male ensemble, a strong supporting cast of young talented chaps is a rarity in this game and so refreshing to see.

April was wonderfully brought to life by Grace Griffiths displaying the ideal qualities required for the role, as was Jenny MacIntyre as Amy which was indeed delivered with fine calibre, a worthwhile note would be to not ‘give’ too much to the point it’s overdone but that’s only a fine tuning comment, the performance was hilarious and well received non-the-less. 

The performance which I wholly enjoyed was Jess Ewart’s Joanne, a powerfully commanding portrayal with ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ as the penultimate cherry on top, Jess is both captivating and inspirational, someone with the potential to go far should she desire a career within this industry.

In terms of the staging and movement, I found there to be some unnecessary, excessive pacing around the stage aimlessly on a number of occasions when staying grounded would have been more appropriate and as for the choreography, I really enjoyed the ‘Side By Side’ number at the start of Act Two though the majority of the dancing through the show often looked and felt detached from what was happening.

This society / committee at UMMTS value the importance of, and make sure the quality of the music is represented to an impressive grade. Co Musical Directors Kieran Enticknap and Ollie Thompson did a grand job with the luxury of the complete orchestra. The vocals amongst the cast, solo and harmony work was on fine point and I am glad to have heard the score with the inclusion of the pit voices, which is rarely done.  

The show had a delayed start running twenty minutes over and during the first half, some sort of protest or campaign was happening outside the performance venue which caused a fair amount of disruption to a few scenes in Act One, commendably though - the cast did extremely well to battle through and continue with the degree of focus they sustained.