RNCM Opera’s Company Has Authentic Sixties Feel

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Stephen Sondheim, Company: RNCM Opera, The RNCM Ensemble / Julian Kelly (music director), MMU Capitol Theatre, Manchester, 25.6.2014 (MC)

Sondhiem's Company © Paul Cliff
Sondhiem’s Company © Paul Cliff


Joseph Dexter (Robert)
Stephanie Stanway (Sarah)
Matt Mears (Harry)
Juliet Montgomery (Susan)
Nathan Bellis (Peter)
Jennifer Parker (Jenny)
Steven Griffin (David)
Elizabeth Humphries (Amy)
Jacob Robson (Paul)
Rabiya Plush-Noad (Joanne)
Thomas Luckett (Larry)
Rhiannon Herridge (April)
Catriona Hewitson (Marta)
Charlotte Christensen (Kathy)

Tick Tock dancers: Anna Cooper, Judith Holt, Grace Houston, Eirianna Lagkouvardou, Margaux Stones


Book: Gteorgew Furth
Director and Music Staging: Garth Bardsley
Choreographer: Bethan Rhys Wiliam
Set and Costume Designer: David Cockayne
Lighting Designer: Paul Botham
Sound Designer: Clement Rawling
The RNCM Ensemble
Music Director: Julian Kelly

This was a hugely enjoyable and colourful production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company by RNCM Opera at the Capitol Theatre of Manchester Metropolitan University. None of the cast would have been born when Company opened on Broadway in 1970. I was pleased that the director Garth Bardsley kept a traditional late-sixties staging which worked exceptionally well on the rather cramped Capitol Theatre stage. Very much a musical of its time, Company set in New York comes from the end of the swinging sixties a time of great change like the post-war baby boom, liberation and equal rights (black civil rights, feminist and gay rights movements).

Through a series of vignettes this brilliantly observed musical comedy is based on a book by George Furth. The setting is the occasion of Robert’s thirty-fifth birthday at his Manhattan apartment. More often called Bobby than Robert the scenario follows the relationships of five couples and their friend Bobby the perennial bachelor and his three girl friends.

Joseph Dexter played the extremely demanding key role as Bobby the character who appears on stage virtually all the time with the other cast members having much less time in the spotlight. It was absolutely crucial that Dexter was on top form and it soon became evident that the fourth year student, clearly looking much younger than a man in his mid thirties, was very comfortable as the central character. The handsome Dexter as the well groomed Bobby looked natural and quietly assured rather than bursting with stage presence. Bobby just radiated that sort of quality in a young man that a mother would be happy for their daughter to bring home. Bobby had two main solo numbers ‘Someone is Waiting’ and ‘Being Alive’ that were pleasingly sung by Dexter. With a light, bright voice that is much happier in the higher and mid register than its lower reaches Dexter’s diction is clear and his projection is reasonable. Dexter can be congratulated for pulling off what would be a difficult role for a seasoned professional.

Space doesn’t allow discussion of the individual sketch of the five couples and the three girlfriends although each was convincingly done. Sticking in the memory was Sarah (Stephanie Stanway) and Harry (Matt Mears) both hopelessly trying to give the impression that they were coping with their addictions namely her eating chocolate brownies and  his drinking bourbon. I was also taken with Bobby’s relationship with April the air hostess played by Rhiannon Herridge who made a convincing job of creating a dumb and boring personality. Bobby’s wooing of April and their subsequent bedroom scene was one of the more entertaining situations in the musical.

Anyone who performs the big song ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’ inevitably invites comparison with Broadway stars Elaine Stritch and Patti LuPone who have both sung the role of Joanne, a bored world-weary cynic far too fond of the cocktail bar. Not surprisingly Rabiya Plush-Noad doesn’t have the vocal quality of Stritch and LuPone (few singers do) but with splendid acting she offered a bravura performance that totally captured the essence of the lyrics. I think the song benefits from being sung slightly slower and the drunken slurring doesn’t need to be exaggerated as the message is contained in the clever autobiographical words.
Designed by David Cockayne the sixties themed set and costumes were superb so crucial to the success of the musical. The Tick Tock dancers performed well and the RNCM Ensemble under the baton of music director Julian Kelly gave the score plenty of rhythm and bite if a touch lacking in subtlety. One small grumble, which I’m surprised wasn’t picked up on the sound check was the ridiculously loudly miked drumming that totally drowned out the other instruments and offended my eardrums.

Michael Cookson