BWW Interview: Jonathan Bailey & Alex Gaumond Talk COMPANY
West End shows will find themselves in good company later this month. Company returns to the London stage in a reworked version by Marianne Elliott, set in the modern day and featuring gender swaps of characters.
Alex Gaumond and Jonathan Bailey take on the roles of Paul and Jamie respectively. Sharing their experiences of Sondheim, the two talk rehearsals, what could drive them crazy, and throw down the gauntlet to Hamilton!
What is your earliest memory of theatre?
Jonathan Bailey: I got taken to see Oliver! by my Nana when I was five and I remember the experience so viscerally. And I just said to her, "This is what I want to do!"
That and Les Misérables were the two big ones for me, I listened to that on the way to rugby. But I never knew what it was about (it's pretty hard to understand the French Revolution aged six) - I think I came up with this whole story that it was about a horse called Cosette!
Alex Gaumond: Well, it would be hard to sing the show if you're...hoarse!
Jonathan Bailey: Oh God!
What about you, Alex?
Alex Gaumond: For me, it's kind of the opposite. I grew up in Quebec in Canada and there was plenty of theatre in French (which is my first language), but we never went.
In terms of seeing things or being in shows, when I was about 17 a friend said, "I'm in the orchestra of this show. Do you want to come and be in it with me?". And funnily enough, it was Les Mis! So I ended up playing Enjolras in French when I was 17. And then we moved to the UK and I trained here.
So it was a really late start. But it meant at drama school, I ended up being a sponge. I was absorbing everything, second by second.
And do you remember what the first Sondheim musical you saw was?
Jonathan Bailey: The day of my last A-levels, I took over from Andrew Garfield in Beautiful Thing, and the thing that followed that was Side by Side with Josie Walker. I got invited to go and see it and was just like, "This is amazing!". And there was a song which I was really compelled to learn which was "Another Hundred People".
Alex Gaumond: I think my first experience was in Hey, Mr. Producer! It was a concert dedicated to Cameron Mackintosh, but there was some Sondheim in there. But the first full show I saw by Sondheim was in drama school, when the third years did Into the Woods.
Jonathan Bailey: Have you ever done that show?
Alex Gaumond: Yes, at the Royal Exchange.
Because you've done quite a bit of Sondheim now, haven't you?
Alex Gaumond: Yes, I've been really lucky.
While I was at drama school, I was part of a big concert at the Barbican called Sondheim Tonight. They had the who's who of Sondheim performers, as well as a choir formed of drama students.
And since then, I've done Sunday in the Park with George, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods and now Company. I remember watching Sunday in the Park with George while I was training, the video version of Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters.
Jonathan Bailey: You know, I've just discovered the Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone performance of Evita at the Tonys. It's honestly one of the most extraordinary pieces of singing in the world. She literally is just like [pretends to be Patti LuPone] "Laaa".
I'm so sad this isn't an audio interview, so we can share what that sounded like!
Alex Gaumond: Yes! You'll have to translate that. How many a's are in that?
Jonathan Bailey: Um...about 19!
Is this your first time performing Sondheim, Jonathan?
Jonathan Bailey: Yes.
And you're taking on one of the quickest, wordiest, Sondheim-iest songs ever, "Getting Married Today"!
Jonathan Bailey: Yes! Approaching that, it's just so specific. It's all about very clear thoughts, very quickly. As an actor, it's an absolute dream. It's a technical challenge, but it's discipline. It takes ages to work out what you want to do with it. But once you do, you just solidify and drill, drill, drill.
So having done more plays recently, I'm really enjoying that discipline. But it is terrifying!
Have you performed anything fast-paced before?
Jonathan Bailey: No. In fact, I've always thought that there are actors who can talk very quickly and effectively. And I've never felt that I'm in that category!
Alex Gaumond: But you do talk really quickly as a person! That's one of the things Patti always says about you, "Jonny, I can't understand you. You talk too fast!"
Jonathan Bailey: "You speak faster than a New Yorker!"
Talking patter songs, have either of you seen Hamilton ? Apparently, "Guns and Ships" is 6.3 words/second.
Alex Gaumond: What are we at?
Company's "Getting Married Today": 6.2 words/second.
Jonathan Bailey: Oh, that's so annoying!
Alex Gaumond: ...but you're faster.
Jonathan Bailey: Yes, they don't know the speed I'm going to be doing it at! I'm going to be doing it the fastest it's ever been done.
Alex Gaumond: Those stats, they must be on the tempo of the OBC. But they don't know what tempo we're going to be doing it at.
We'll have to have you come back, pit you guys against the current Hamilton London cast!
Jonathan Bailey: Challenge accepted!
There's the musical director, sitting across the cafe. I'm going to be like, "We have to beat Guns and Ships". That's 100% what we're going to do.
Alex Gaumond: You don't know what you've done! You don't know how competitive he is!
Jonathan Bailey: The first review will come out and it will be like, "No one understood a word he said. But he ended the song with a massive grin!"
Can you give us a brief introduction to the world of your Company?
Alex Gaumond: When it was written in the Seventies, it was about a single 35-year-old man. Ours is about a 35-year-old woman, because we've done a gender swap. She's single, she has three boyfriends, she has a very successful job, everything in her life is great.
But all of her friends are in couples; four are married and the couple we play are engaged. So they're telling her, "Why aren't you married yet? And what about children?".
So it's about relationships and then through all the advice her friends give her, you discover what's going on with them as well.
So what's going in your couple's world, Jamie and Paul?
Alex Gaumond: They're about to get married and Paul is very happy to get married, he's thrilled about that and calm and together. And Jamie...
Jonathan Bailey: Is having a panic attack!
Alex Gaumond: Hence the really fast song.
Jonathan Bailey: Yes. And it's all about whether you can be loved and allowing yourself to be loved.
But the interesting thing about this production is it's all very much in Bobbie's head. I think she's essentially having a panic attack in her own head. Our production in theory exists in real time in about 20 seconds, so it's viscerally vivid in a way that extreme personal and lonely thoughts can be.
I think it's really going to work, the idea of the pressure that society puts on relationships and you yourself do, and then what it is to be an individual.
With the gender swap for your couple, how do you think this will affect how audiences view that relationship?
Jonathan Bailey: So the whole show originally was a social commentary on the 1970s, holding the mirror up to society of the time. And I think that's exactly what we're doing now. [Same-sex] marriage has only been legal in America for three years. So it's a very interesting time to be exploring.
Alex Gaumond: I'd like to think that it might speak to some people, to some gay couples who might be considering getting married but they're not sure it's the right thing for them. Whether it's something they want to do or which they feel that they have to do. Because suddenly with gay marriage being legal, it opens all of that within gay society, whereas before marriage was never an option.
Jonathan Bailey: And like with Bobbie, there is that external pressure, societal pressure. But the actual thing is that it's actually just about equality and the possibility.
Alex Gaumond: So it would be great if our audiences want to share their stories.
Can you share with us what you've been up to in rehearsals this week?
Jonathan Bailey: Well, you've come on a very special day!
Jonathan Bailey: Today, we are going to run the whole of Act 1. Stagger it.
Alex Gaumond: No pressure - stagger today. Because of how the show's written and every couple having their own sort of isolated scenes, we haven't seen any of the other couples. Because they've been rehearsing their own vignettes. So this week is the first time we've started to put scenes together, which is amazing.
Jonathan Bailey: And Marianne Elliott is extraordinary. Just seeing her work in this way, because it's so stylised and it's so in Bobbie's mind. We've been working loads with her and she gives amazing notes. We call them 'Elliott Specials'! The only thing better than a Marianne Elliott note is actually being able to do it!
Alex Gaumond: It's like enlightenment!
Jonathan Bailey: It's like she's lived 99 lives and she's come back just to tell us what's going to be going on.
Wow! Have either of you two worked with Marianne before?
Jonathan Bailey: I'd only done the workshop for this with her, two years ago.
I didn't realise it had been in development for that long. But it makes total sense with the changes and approval from Sondheim.
Jonathan Bailey: Yes. And we had five days of workshops to convince him!
Alex Gaumond: The workshop was to show Sondheim what it might look and feel like. And I believe only after that did he give his permission to go ahead.
Jonathan Bailey: It was the most amazing week; you just got such a sense that the cogs were turning. But then the gender swap with Amy only came up as an option way down the line, in April this year.
One of the famous numbers from the show is "You Could Drive a Person Crazy". On that note, what's the one thing that could drive you crazy in a relationship?
Alex Gaumond: When you put stuff in the dishwasher willy-nilly and you're not maximising on space.
Jonathan Bailey: That is such an Alex thing!
Alex Gaumond: There's rows for a reason. If you put stuff spread out everywhere, you're not maximising the space!
Jonathan Bailey: That why he's eating his lunch with a wooden fork. He only uses that now, can't go near a dishwasher!
What about you, Jonathan?
Jonathan Bailey: I've got it: asking a question to make a point.
Kind of passive-aggressively?
Jonathan Bailey: Exactly! So just being like, "I just want to check, do you need me to book a single room in this hotel? Or are we getting a double?" (i.e. are you going to be there). And that happened to me once! When does anyone book a single room in a hotel?! Just ask me if I'm going to be there!
Alex Gaumond: So if we were a couple, I'd say, "Did you mean to put that plate flat down in the dishwasher like that?"
Jonathan Bailey: "Hey, Jonny look what you've done: it's on a diagonal now! Was that on purpose?"
Alex Gaumond: "Great, so did you mean for the plate to take three spaces?"
Jonathan Bailey: "And there's a whole courgette on it!"
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks