Theatre Review: Company
If I could sum up the musical, Company in two words, it would be… Forever Alone. Yes, it is the remake of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award Winning Musical that focuses on Bobby, a swinging bachelor who grapples with his singlehood as his friends are all moving to a new phase in their life getting married and having kids. The musical features new face Peter Ong in the lead role while featuring familiar faces Tan Kheng Hua and Karen Tan and Petrina Kow (or should I say, familiar voice in this instance. She is a DJ for Lush 99.5FM!)
What is interesting about Company is the issue at hand. Bobby constantly asserts that he is ready for commitment and ready to settle down but we see that his actions prove otherwise. He is seen on casual dates with three women: April the ditzy air stewardess, Kathy the girl from Ipoh and Marta the Filipino expat who is vivacious and ‘original’ and is often seen flirting to get them to sleep with him. If you are expecting this to be a repeat of Boeing Boeing, then you are sorely mistaken. He doesn’t land any of the girls and neither does he find a happy ending in marriage.
No, I’m afraid this is not your typical cautionary tale with a predictable plot line. I think Sondheim doesn’t wish to give easy answers because while we see Bobby constantly faced with pressure from his married friends to settle down, we aren’t meant to see marriage as the final destination in which all joy and happiness is derived. Instead, Sondheim and director Hossan Leong for that matter, play up the chaos and drama that exist between each couple. The satirical portrayal of these characters really gets you to see just how dysfunctional they are. We see Karen Tan’s character Jenny constantly making concessions for her husband David (played by Bendon Fernandez) and we can tell that there is underlying tension between the two. We see Tan Kheng Hua’s Joanne as a jaded individual who is in her third marriage and Bobby’s friends, Susan (Rebecca Spykerman) and Peter (Ivan Choong) are in a midst of a divorce.
In short, the characters are all pretty messed up and it kind of stays this way from start to finish. My gripe about the play is that the music takes centrestage so the characters often sing more than they actually act so I got pretty frustrated that the plot didn’t seem to be moving along. Also, there’s alot of loose ends that are left dangling and all these issues embedded within each relationship isn’t resolved. For example, Joanne propositions Bobby indicating that her marriage isn’t as happy as it seems but the story just leaves it at that without any further explanation. And the musical ends on a cliffhanger with Bobby blowing out his birthday candles for the third time. So I wonder if this is a Pinter and Beckett-esque moment where repetition indicates stagnancy and futility. Does this mean that Bobby can never find true love? Will he be stuck in this vicious cycle forever?
It’s all very ambivalent and I guess if you need some degree of negative capability to deal with it. On the plus side, Petrina Kow, Karen Tan and Mina Ellen Kaye who plays Marta were riveting to watch. They fully committed to their roles especially Petrina Kow. She was psychotic, crazy and side-splittingly hilarious the whole time and Mina Ellen Kaye has the foreign accent down pat and she really played her role with gusto. It was very impressive. As for Peter Ong, well, this guy can sing! Acting though… I didn’t feel like he was particularly memorable. The true highlight was the set. The set was beautiful and functional. I think the audience gasped when the bed folded down over the sofa.
Honestly, I think this musical is a miss for me. It might be because I didn’t connect with the script (felt that way with Into the Woods as well) and for most of the time I found the reprise extremely annoying because it kept repeating over and over. More so than other musicals. Also, there were too many characters so there was breadth of understanding but not depth so I didn’t feel emotionally tied to Bobby or his predicament. It was all rather disappointing.
Company runs all the way to the 17th of November at the Drama Centre at National Library. Tickets can be purchased at Sistic.