Lawrence Sharkey, a University of Glasgow student, directed and produced a brilliant adaption of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company that ran for four shows at the Webster’s Theatre in Glasgow from Thursday 12 November to Saturday 14 November. The Glasgow Guardian spoke to him about the show.
Guardian: When did your production company, Glasgow Live Productions, first come fruition?
At the start of the programme there’s a part that kicks off something like ‘An Ozzie and a Scotsman walk into a bar which is the start of a bad joke and also how Glasgow Live Productions got created’ and that basically describes myself and Angus Reid, who’s the assistant producer and musical director, meeting 4 or 5 months ago. Personally I’d wanted for a long time to do a show and I was trying to find a combatant to do that with and Angus and I were chatting along in a pub one day and just said ‘why not?’. Then we went and got people involved and here we are.
Guardian: Was it easy to attract people to come and be involved?
Strangely enough, yes. I think Company has got a theatre niche and attracts people who have a great great interest in theatre because Company is not something like ‘Les Mis(erables)’ or ‘Phantom (of the Opera)’ that everyone knows, it’s relatively unknown.
Guardian: What brought you to choosing Company?
We originally looked at ‘Next To Normal’ (another Stephen Sondheim musical) but the rights hadn’t been released for that yet and we were looking for something with a small to medium sized cast that we could put on in a medium sized theatre and Company just fit the role. It was a Sondheim as well so it was good to start with a challenge.
Guardian: Stephen Sondheim’s musicals are notorious complex, particularly musically, did you find that challenging?
Questions about the music side of things might be better answered by our musical director but yes the musical direction is incredibly complex as well as the direction for the psychology behind the characters and their interactions. For the production team, who are in their inaugural roles of each, I think we’ve given it a pretty good bash.
Guardian: From watching the show last night, one obvious difference I noticed to the original script was the replacement of the character ‘Paul’ with ‘Paula’. What difference do you think that had on the production, for example what dynamics changed as a result?
Are you asking if it took away anything or added something?
Guardian: I thought it added something unless you thought it took away?
No no, I thought if there was going to be a character male or female to have their gender swapped then Paul was the best character to do that with and it didn’t hurt the integrity of the script to do it. I personally feel from where we stand just now as the Scottish community that it added an aspect to it and because we’ve tried to bring Company into the modern times – with mobile phones on stage etc. – it was most sensible to therefore also have a homosexual couple in the play because that is so integrated in our modern society.
Guardian: Definitely. And that brings me on to my next question which is: you set the musical in the present times (rather than the 1970s when the musical was written), what was your directorial decision for that?
I just think that Company is more relatable to normal every day life than I feel a lot of other musicals are and I think by bringing it to modern times it emphasises that aspect. I was saying to some of the cast before that we’ve never had a show where we reference it so much, comically wise, either inside rehearsals or outside of rehearsals because we’ll be having conversations and every time we have a conversation there’ll be a moment where it mirrors an interaction in the play. So pulling it forward to modern times shows that. It’s only a difference of 30 years but it emphasises that aspect: that there is so much about relationships that is still present from then to now.
Guardian: Yes, definitely. And timeless maybe?
Yeah, and that also highlights the aspect of integrating a homosexual couple into it – doing it fits so well with that.
Guardian: I really liked the revolving centre set piece and I wondered if that was something you had envisioned in the beginning?
That did come fairly early. The concept of the revolve as it stands just now is that Robert’s life is in this constant sequence, turning around and always going in the one direction, until at the very end when he shouts out ‘Stop!’ and kicks it out of sequence. That’s the moment where his life changes, his idea of marriage or relationships finally changes, and the idea of that kicking out of sequence and not having this formed cross you have that space now where Robert finally starts to find his newfound idea of what relationships are. So the concept and the set was brought forward very much at the start of it and then we contacted Pete Sneddon’s engineering to help us with making it and he’s done a fantastic job with it. He did the construction of it all and Marianne Vosloo was our artist who decorated it artistically.
Guardian: Do you think that producing Company has made you look towards producing Stephen Sondheim in the future?
I’m very interested in Stephen Sondheim’s work. He has an outlook on life which is relatively similar to my own that makes it easier to relate myself with his musicals and they are also very very fun to direct. I would say not produce as such but direct definitely, it’s fun to see how relatable his psychology of life is to my own and I definitely would consider doing another show of his again direction wise. In terms of myself and production with Glasgow Live Productions I’m personally going to take a step back from it and allow, if there is a future for it, for members of the cast in this production to try to form that for themselves because I’m interested to see now whether this is something they want to continue. Often with these companies they are set up and it’s always one person, such as myself, who is always pushing and pushing and pushing it. For me personally in the time I am in just now in University, in my 4th year study of dentistry, I’d like to take a step back from it and see what happens to it and whether it does continue or doesn’t. And if it doesn’t continue, fine, everyone’s so happy and pleased and joyous that we put this on and its been very spontaneous and that’s terrific. If it finished with Company it does that but if people say ‘this is something we want to continue and we want to see flourish’ then fair enough.
Q. That really brings me to my penultimate question about the direction of Glasgow Live Productions going forward, but I suppose that sums up that it’s in the hands of the cast?
Answer: Yeah, that’s got a question mark over it, and I think that it’s nice that it does that. There are other production companies just now like Pantheon and Paul that in 6 months they do a show and in another 6 months they do a show (and so on) and that’s fantastic, but this was at the start set up because I wanted to get a chance to direct something and then I pulled on Angus who also wanted a chance to musically direct something and Craig (Murdoch) also wanted to choreograph something so all three of us were fresh to the roles and I’d like to see that continuing. I’d like there to be a chance for people to get more experience at the production side. Right now it’s pretty hard for people to get that chance because you can go along to an amateur theatre company and jump into a cast and have a great time on stage but there’s not the same opportunities on the other side of the room to be a producer/director/musical director/choreographer so that would be nice to see continuing.
Guardian: Do you think you’ll ever personally return to Glasgow Live Productions in the future?
I think if it continues on and it keeps going then I’d love to come back to it and possibly direct something in the future, definitely. And obviously I’ll always be there for anyone who wants to put anything on to give them advice or help it along the way.