I have a guilty feeling that I should have gone to ENO’s Lulu and ROH’s Nose; but instead I went to WLOS’s Company. WLOS? That’s Wimbledon Light Opera Society to you. It was a pleasant realisation that Stephen Sondheim’s work now qualifies as ‘Light Opera’. My own earliest encounters with musical theatre happened when I played in the band for our local society’s productions. The titles we played were things you don’t hear much these days – The Gypsy Baron, A Night in Venice, plus of course plenty of G&S.
Sondheim’s piece (from 1970) now seems almost demure in its portrayal of the social/sexual life of a group of NYC 30-somethings. But what a ground-breaking work it is, its abstract, conceptual gaze married to strong melodies and graceful word-setting. WLOS accompanied their production with an 11-piece live band, playing some very zippy arrangements. The show's concluding statement - 'love is company' - still counts as helpful advice in our nowadays socially atomised world.
Before curtain up, I wondered how ‘amateur’ this performance would be (without wanting to use ‘the a-word’ pejoratively). The answer was, not at all; given more money to throw at ‘production values’, it could have been taken for a professional show. During the interval I trained an eagle eye on the company biogs in the printed programme – which were, as in professional shows, mainly lists of previous appearances. One or two people admitted to being in teaching, banking, etc, and I’m reliably informed that this wasn’t in fact a huge group of resting actors. Which confirms an impression I’ve had lately when visiting amateur orchestras in London, that there’s a increasing population of highly able performers who could, but don’t, make their living this way. In this city at least, you could avoid the professional performing companies completely, and still see/hear a constant stream of quality work. Why is this? Less actual paid work around ? More portfolio careers? Certainly a sizeable group of people have received some very good training as performers, whichever professions they then choose to follow.