The Almost Famous Company is a student run amateur company who perform both plays and Musicals in the university's own theatre; a small, but perfect and well-equipped stage with raked seating, seating I would imagine, around 150. The company however, does not only admit members from students on the university's acting and theatre courses, but membership is also extended to any current student of the university, no matter what they might be there to read.
It was my first visit to this venue, and my first experience of this company. Salford University complex is indeed much larger and grander than I had at first imagined, and the theatre itself, just like any small scale producing house. I don't know what I expected, but I didn't expect that, and it was a very pleasant surprise.
However, I digress. Company, by Stephen Sondheim, made its debut in 1970 and scooped a handful of Tony awards at that time. Perhaps because it was unique, different, and edgy. Based on several short stories, the show follows, in several non sequential vignettes, the angst, or is it happiness, of Robert, a thirty-five year old bachelor watching all of his friends one by one get married, and then dissatisfied with their marriage, even to divorce, and yet all the time think that he perhaps is missing out on something. Perhaps this is something I can relate too more than others as I, myself, have followed Robert's path and watched all my friends do 'the marriage thing'; to a greater or lesser extent of success, compatibility and happiness. Robert's friends however seem more complicated and neurotic than most!
Company is Sondheim's seminal work, as it truly is the first Concept Musical to make it big. The idea or 'concept' of the Musical being more important than the actual narrative or story. And Sondheim himself described the Musical as neither satire nor sentiment, but irony.
In this production, the protagonist of Robert was played with an easy relaxed style by Jack Fletcher, and was ably supported by a whole array of his friends and their wives, along with his three current girlfriends and a chorus of more! The company gave their all for this show, and provided us with some very nice scenelets, interesting choreography, and some powerful singing. The highlights of the show for me though were undoubtedly (in no particular order); Barcelona, The Ladies That Lunch, and Not Getting Married Today.
The stage setting was quite simple but proved to be quite effective. The band, sounding in fine form under the leadership of Barrie Knight, were at the rear of the stage, with a raised walkway between them and the main playing area. Costumes, and stage props were all very good and looked of the correct period, and although the show got off to a rather slow and sluggish start this evening, the pace soon picked up and the audience were swept up in this world of good and crazy people, Robert's married friends.
The show did seem somewhat overlong, as it finished around 10pm with only a short 10 minute interval, and the mic levels were certainly in need of tweaking. The band was too loud in places and the speaking parts too quiet. However, it was nevertheless a very brave stab at an often shunned and difficult Musical, and well done to all involved in bringing it back to life for us.
Reviewer: Mark Dee
Reviewed: 16th February 2017