Review: Company *****

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Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

BOBBY is a 1970s Lothario and commitment-phobe who loves women so long as none of them gets too close. However, it’s his 35th birthday, and he’s starting to play against type. His friends all settled down years ago, and their attitude to Bobby is ambivalent: on the one hand he’s the repository of both male and female fantasies about single life; on the other they worry about him and feel his life can’t be complete.

Daniel Evans, the artistic director of Sheffield Theatres who is also a director, actor, singer and dancer has chosen Stephen Sondheim’s Company as the Crucible’s Christmas show this year, and the decision was an inspired one. As Bobby, Evans (who won an Olivier for his previous Sondheim outing as George in Sunday in the Park with George) strips to his underpants to writhe around in black satin sheets with April the air hostess, while worrying about whether he wants sex with or without strings.

One of those stories where there’s little action but a lot going on, Company focuses on Bobby’s state of mind as he observes and unpicks the marriages of the five couples who are his closest friends. George Furth’s crisp, almost acidic book and Sondheim’s biting, unsentimental score capture in perfect balance the glorious but perplexing contradictions in human nature.

The set is a perfect New York loft created masterfully by Christopher Oram and lit by Neil Austin using mosaic flooring that captures every mood from late night confessions to disco frenzy. The costumes are a froth of bad scarves, hideous prints and wedged shoes.

In a panoply of great voices that beautifully interpret the pungent storytelling and difficult phrasing of some of the songs, this consummate ensemble plays out the bitter-sweetness of sharing your life long-term. Bobby flits between a view of marriage as being about crazy people who settle for too little and a deep, seductive tenderness and lifelong affection based on accepting differences.

Jonathan Munby’s impeccable production has several show-stopping moments, including Amy (Samantha Spiro)’s tongue-twisting Getting Married Today, a drunken rant by Joanna (Francesca Annis) with Ladies Who Lunch and Evans’s soaring Being Alive, accompanied by the rest of the cast. This show has West End transfer stamped all over it. Catch it before it goes.

To January 7.