EDINBURGH 2012: BWW Reviews; COMPANY, C Venues, August 16

Kevin Sherwin

Having not particularly enjoyed last year's Sunday In The Park With George, my friend and I were somewhat wary when the time came to attend the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland's centrepiece of their 2012 Fringe season. It's another Sondheim show, but a more palatable, melodic one, so I was expecting a more enjoyable experience. Said friend, however, was a lot less sure; much persuasion was required, and because I couldn't quite wait for her verdict, we agreed that when it was decided, she'd give me an elbow nudge for good and a knee nudge for bad. But more on that shortly...

It's 1970s New York and Bobby (Adam Clark) is turning 35. Struggling with the idea of settling down, he consults with "those good and crazy people" his married friends – five couples – and embarks upon various liaisons with three would-be girlfriends. The show itself is tremendous: its wonderful songs, clever lyrics and witty book make it a musical that's easy to love, but given its tricky structure and frequently frantic pace, it's bound to be a difficult one to get right.

This production makes a very good stab at that indeed, with a talented cast, effective staging and impressive, varied lighting. The band is strong, and although the electric drum kit means it's a little gentle sonically, I'd rather hear Sondheim's masterful lyrics than have them drowned out. The numbers are staged effectively, and one in particular - Side By Side, all kicklines and novelty hats - brings a vital and welcome dash of Broadway magic so this Scottish basement space.

If there's a problem with the production, it's that it doesn't always feel real. No, it's not the 70s and we're not on Manhattan Island but nonetheless, the delivery of a line or scene of dialogue should still be able to cut through and make an audience believe what's being said. That is slightly lacking here, a fact made more evident when one such moment does occur: the reaction of Paul (a charming Joe Bliss) to Amy (Mhairi Munro, amusing) telling him she doesn't love him enough is utterly convincing, and cuts through the staginess that peppers parts of the show.

Singing is very good throughout, and there are some standout performances, namely by Rikki Browne, Keisha T Fraser and an excellent Al Braatz. Joshua Harvey's musical direction is precise and serves the material very well, while Dominic Hill's direction - including the decision to have all performers onstage for the vast majority of the running time - is regularly inspired.

So while it might not be perfect, the Conservatoire's take on Company is a hugely entertaining way to pass two-and-a-half hours (don't worry, they fly by) and any shortcomings are easily forgiven when one is faced with the contagious enthusiasm of its cast.

Oh, and for what it's worth, the elbow nudge came half-way through the opening number.



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