Risk and Reward

ICAC’s undertaking of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece Company is one that leaves you with a song in your head long after you’ve left the theatre. Taking on the challenge of Sondheim is an impressive gamble in and of itself, and Company is not only a musically complex show, but a confounding and almost plotless series of vignettes concerning love and married life in New York City. At the centre of it all is Bobby (Ben Johnson), turning 35 and still unmarried. Side by side with him are his married friends, all seemingly settled with their good ‘company’ and pushing for him to settle as well.

Although it is the ensemble of nuanced and comedic performances that make this production enjoyable, there were certainly standouts. Particular mention must be made to Matilda Gibbs in the role of Sarah, whose physicality, incredible expression and biting tone made her one to watch. Molly Hoffman was given the chance to shine as Marta, her brilliant vocals and bold stage presence a delight. And Millicent Kavenagh and Eleanor Davey, as Amy and Jenny respectively, brought the house down with their impeccable comic timing. Ben Johnson as Bobby was a great lead; he provided a single man’s perspective in the vignettes and his performance of ‘Being Alive’ was a showstopper, bringing me to the edge of my seat. It felt, however, as though he spent the show building to this moment, making the character of Bobby hard to pin down – a man floating from one vignette to the other.

A cast of unmarried millennials could fumble a show about marriage, but most of the actors here pull it off. However, more exploration of the motivations of certain characters was needed to follow them through to a strong and more convincing conclusion. The proposition of an affair in the second act was a moment in which the motivations of the characters felt unclear and out of place. What had the potential to be a moment of genuine vulnerability and a dip into themes of homosexuality came across as being played simply for laughs. This was one moment where the show, written in 1970, felt out of touch.

Vocally the cast was near perfect, their blend and consistency in the repetitive strains of ‘Bobby, Bobby, Bobby baby’ was impressive. The sound engineers must be credited here, for the balance of voices was consistent and incredibly well done from a technical perspective. The director, Ryan Bentley, should be applauded for his well-crafted staging. A simple set with the orchestra placed squarely within the actor’s space is a bold move, but fit incredibly well. It is hard to believe that the excellent musicians that make up the orchestra are all students. James Mountain as the musical director has assembled and guided a seamless ensemble – and his moment of humour during ‘Not Getting Married’ was met with gales of laughter from the audience on opening night.

ICACs Company is a cleverly done and cynical take on relationships in which moments of comedy abound. The young cast demonstrates that the idea of just needing some company is strong and lasting across generation and age. The gamble of undertaking Sondheim has paid off, ICAC has put on a truly enjoyable show.

Claire Ferguson

ICAC’s Company ran from May 12th – 14th in the Union Theatre.

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