Bed and Sofa
Finborough Theatre Spring 2011
This offbeat little sung-through musical is slow starting, both dramatically and musically, but if you stick with it you are likely to fall for its quirky charm.
It is based on a 1926 Russian silent film, of all things, a mildly political romantic comedy about a couple who take in a boarder only to have him displace the husband in the wife's bed. She ultimately has to decide, not between them, but whether she really wants either.
Laurence Klavan's libretto reduces the subversive commentary on the hardships of life in the Stalin era to a minimum, but he otherwise follows the film so closely that his lyrics are all taken from the film's translated intertitles.
This creates a challenge for composer Polly Pen, since lines like 'I have wrapped my sandwich in paper' and even 'I have brought you coffee beans from Rostov' don't really lend themselves to extended melodic treatment, and some of the incidental music has an anonymous Palm Court Orchestra feel.
But 'You'll take the bed and I'll take the sofa' develops nicely into a recurring song, especially as the identities of 'you' and 'I' keep changing.
There is a nicely witty edge to a song in which the woman realises that both she and the USSR government have bad luck in choosing their men.
A melodic trio in which the three sing of their separate dreams is lovely and satisfyingly complex in a Sondheimish way, recalling the 'Soon/Now/Later' trio in A Little Night Music while retaining its own individual sound.
Under the direction of Luke Sheppard and the musical direction of Candida Caldicot, Alistair Parker (husband), Kaisa Hammarlund (wife) and Alistair Brookshaw (boarder) sing beautifully and capture all the quiet humour of the story, hampered only by the occasional low-energy stretches, particularly in the first half, when they're not given enough, musically or comically, to work with.
And as pleasant added bonuses we get the recorded voice of Penelope Keith reading some of the film's ironic between-scenes commentary, and a delightful little toy train.
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Review - Bed And Sofa - Finborough Theatre 2011