WhatsOnStage Logo

Brief Encounter With ... Daniel Evans & Samantha Spiro

WhatsOnStage logo
Daniel Evans and Samantha Spiro, who both won Oliviers when they starred in Merrily We Roll Along at the Donmar in 2000, have reunited in a new production of Sondheim’s Company at Sheffield Theatres, where Evans is artistic director.

Company is directed by Jonathan Munby and also stars Francesca Annis, Lucy Montgomery, Rosalie Craig and former Chicago co-stars Anna-Jane Casey and Kelly Price.

It centres on the exploits of Bobby (Evans), a 35-year-old bachelor living in New York, and his mostly-married circle of friends (Spiro plays panicking bride-to-be Amy).

Designed by Christopher Oram, it runs in the Crucible Theatre from 5 December (previews from 29 November 2011) to 7 January 2012.

Why did you want to revive Company?
Daniel Evans: It’s a piece I love. It’s about connecting with people and the value, or quality, of the connection we have with people and the need for intimacy. It’s just something I find interesting at the moment especially with the fact that we now Facebook, Tweet and Skype each other; we seem to be more connected than ever, but in fact are we?

But the production isn’t set in the present day
DE: Absolutely not, no. It’s a period piece and it’s set in 1970 which is when it was written.

Is Bobby a role that you’ve long had your eye on?
DE: It is. I’ve done a few of Sondheim’s musicals now and I really connect with his work so, frankly, yes it’s a part I’ve wanted to play for a little while.

What was it like reuniting on Merrily We Roll Along last year?
Samantha Spiro: It was amazing. Because it's all about friendship, over the years, and it was ten years since we did it last… To be reunited with old friends felt like an extension of the piece itself. It was an incredibly happy reunion.

Sam, is it nice to be doing an ensemble piece again after the likes of Funny Girl and Hello Dolly?
SS: It’s really interesting that you ask that because I was just saying the exact same thing to Dan on the way here. The way that Company is written, everybody has a great scene, everybody has a great song - it’s a true ensemble piece and I feel incredibly proud to be a part of that, and incredibly proud of everybody in it.

So you’ve got a good chemistry as a company?
SS: It’s lovely actually, yes.
DE: We’ve got such a brilliant cast, I don’t include myself, but we’ve got an ensemble of leading actors and that’s an amazing thing to be part of.
SS: It really requires it as well – the detail of the characters is such that they all require top notch actors and Dan and Jonathan have certainly managed to get them. As Dan said, not including myself, you look around and think ‘Gosh there’s quite a lot of talent!’

How did the casting process work?
DE: I should start with the casting of myself because it was something me and Jonathan talked about when I was doing Sunday In The Park with George in New York and Jonathan came to see the show. I’d known Jonathan for a little while but had never worked with him so we had lunch one day and he said should we work together, and I said I wanted to do Company. It turned out he wanted to do Company and so when I then got the Sheffield job it was one of the first things I did - I bought the rights. Then after that I just treated Jonathan like any other director that works in Sheffield, which is that I give them autonomy. They check in with me and discuss the casting but I try and give the director as much freedom as possible.

Jonathan’s an interesting choice considering it’s his first musical - what made you want to work with him on this?
DE: Well firstly he’s very intelligent. I’d seen his work, all of which was in classical theatre, and he specialised for a while in the Spanish Golden Age plays. I’d known him for a while but we’d never worked together so it felt like a happy coincidence that we were both excited about the piece and it felt natural that we would work on it together. And yes, it’s his first musical but he’s worked in opera before.

Do you feel more pressure taking to the Crucible stage as artistic director?
DE: I did The Pride with Richard Wilson which was in the studio in the summer and there is a difference when you do act or direct because your hours increase. So you do a full days’ rehearsal then you go home and spend the evening in front of the computer answering emails or making calls. But I would say the biggest thing that’s different this time is that there is singing involved, and because I came to singing quite late, I find I really have to look after my voice. I get up early to do a warm up which really adds an hour or so onto your day so you can tire easily but you have to look after yourself.

So tell us a bit more about the production itself. Any doubling up of roles, that sort of thing?
DE: There will be minor doubling, so for example Jeremy Finch who plays Paul, Amy’s husband, in some scenes plays the waiter as well.
SS: And the girls play the dancers in the nightclub. But it doesn’t really feel like doubling for some reason. It all takes place in Bobby’s head. For example, when I’m singing “(Not) Getting Married Today”, Amy conjures up a cast of people from her life as a choir in the church; if there is any doubling it’s less about actors doubling and more about it being familiar faces, if that makes sense?
DE: We’ve got such an amazing set by Chrisopher Oram. Bobby’s apartment is a typical, if rather glorious, New York apartment in the meat packing district. While we’re setting it in the period we’re absolutely not spoofing the period. And we’ve also got a brand new orchestration by Simon Hale.

Do you think attitudes towards marriage have changed or do you think Company still has the same resonance as it did in 1970?
DE: Well one of the things that has changed all of our lives is the internet. So people’s attitudes to things such as sex, for example, have revolutionised. People can have sex over the internet and meet over the internet which seems to have helped people in a strange way. But I think the issue of marriage and monogamy is still very much in peoples’ minds; whether you can exist within a relationship and live with the dysfunction of a relationship. I think those things are perennial issues - they’re to do with people and their feelings for one another.
SS: We probably have more choice now. It’s certainly more accepted nowadays for people not to choose marriage. When Company is set you’re not the norm if you are outside of marriage by the time you’re 35, whereas now at 35 most people are not married. This perhaps makes it quite a nostalgic piece.

Do you relate to the issues that Sondheim is exploring?
SS: Yes of course! I mean, my husband and I were together for 12 years before we got married. Marriage was way down in our priorities because it does throw up huge questions: children, settling down, is this it forever? Of course I think about it, we all do!
DE: The conundrum is that people can drive you mad but you can love them to bits. I’ve been with my partner for nine years and I’m sure I drive him mental at certain points during the year, but I think that’s all part of it and you get the pleasure of getting to know someone.
SS: And allowing those problems and hurdles to actually take you onto the next level.
DE: And that’s exactly what Bobby’s dilemma is; there’s a song called “Someone is Waiting” where he imagines this conglomeration of a woman created by all of his female friends which of course is a vision of perfection that just doesn’t exist for anyone.

What’s your favourite number in the show?
SS: I know what mine is, right now, this very second. It's “Someone is Waiting” as we’ve just seen Dan do it and it was terrific.
DE: I pay her to say such things! I don’t know, that’s a really hard question for me. I mean the thing about the score is that it’s so varied - there’s the madness and hilarity of “(Not) Getting Married Today” and then you get “Barcelona”, which is a dialogue that just happens to be set to music, to “Being Alive” which is meant to open you up and tear you apart. And then “Sorry-Grateful” which is one of my favourites that really sort of captures everything that we’ve been talking about because in a long standing relationship you’re always sorry and you’re always grateful.
SS: And then you’ve got “Side by Side by Side” which is just crazy! They’re all good.
DE: I believe we’ve somewhat skirted the issue…

What would you recommend that people visiting Sheffield see and do, besides Company of course?
DE: You should definitely have sushi at Edo’s Sushi. If you like sushi that’s the place to go, and I’ve been to Japan. I’d also recommend going up to Weston Park Museum - great exhibitions about Sheffield across the years. There’s a very interactive ethos there. And the Showroom cinema is one of the best arthouse independent cinemas in the country. And not forgetting our panto, Sleeping Beauty!

Do you have any plans to transfer Company after its run in Sheffield?
DE: We’re making it for Sheffield. It’s made for this stage. If anything happens then we’ll see but we’re not thinking about that now. We’re not ruling it out, but our focus right now is getting the show up and running on the Crucible stage.

Company runs in the Crucible Theatre from 5 December (previews from 29 November 2011) to 7 January 2012.


Tagged in this Story