It’s Robert’s 35th birthday and, while his friends love him, his singleness is becoming more of a concern than a quirk. In a city like New York, where you can have anything you want, why isn’t this eligible bachelor married? In the Broadway favourite Company, couples celebrate their love together when confronted with someone who doesn’t want what they have.
The bachelor narrative is a familiar heterosexual myth: the older, average man, perhaps attractive, perhaps successful, but with nothing outright wrong with him, remains single as his friends and peers peel off into marriages. The story is framed as an accident, the universe failing to provide the right woman for Robert, the one that will fix his ways and set him on the right path.
Brendan Paul plays a generic Robert who is just friendly enough, rich enough, smarmy enough to be average and unreproachable. His character arc is unusual because he’s pursuing a goal he doesn’t actually want for himself, and it drags him deeper into drunkenness, aloofness, and carelessness. Company comes across as a show about bucking expectations and inverting social pressures but, really, Robert is just justifying choices he isn’t being punished for making.
This is faithful rendition of the musical, playing straight and narrow with the representation of modern marriage with its highs and lows. Heather Campbell was a crowd favourite as she panicked on her wedding day, breathless to assure all invited guests that there would be no ceremony. The ensemble of characters, mostly married couples, litter the stage throughout the production and get in the way just as much as the furniture. Everything is a bit claustrophobic and not in a chic inner city kind of way. Perhaps with more room to move, Tracy Blankenship’s choreography wouldn’t have felt so shoehorned or out of place.
The songs are catchy with a Sondheim flair that feels like a 1950s commercial jingle or the elevator music you can’t get out of your head. But, because the story is spread over a number of years and many apartments, the narrative is often disjointed. Company isn’t plot driven but rather relies on the eccentricities you recognise of yourself in the characters or the tropes that ring true.
While Company is a classic, to shortly follow the one year anniversary of the Yes Vote with a show steeped in heteronormativity seems on a completely different wave-length. Other than the couple choosing to raise their family as divorcees, all of these marriages look the same and they all argue for the perpetuation of an image of marriage and family that the majority of Australia doesn’t agree with anymore. When the makeup of our relationships is more diverse than ever, it seems remiss to not have that reflected on stage.
In such a small performance space, the Depot Theatre team manage to not make this musical feel overwhelming but rather cosy and very familiar.
Company is running at Limelight on Oxford from November 14th – December 1st