Musicals

 

 

A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

Take Note Theatre presents

 

Bed and Sofa

 

Photo by Robert Workman

 

Music by Polly Pen and libretto by Laurence Klavan

 

Based on the film by Abram Room

 

Directed by Luke Sheppard

 

Finborough Theatre

 

 29 March – 23 April 2011


 

If you want to make theatre about the monotony of a domestic housewife, I suppose ‘Bed and Sofa’ isn’t an inappropriate title. Juxtaposing those two household nouns conjures up images of repetition, entrapment and despair with a potential for some erratic bed-swapping – and that’s what we get. But what happens when you add words to what was once a silent film?

Bed and Sofa is a contemporary opera which seeks to display the drudgery of domesticity in Stalin’s 1926 Moscow by strongly punctuated oral repetition – of all words sung on stage, about a third are either ‘bed’ or ‘sofa’. When Kolya’s old war buddy, Volodya, arrives in the city with no place to stay, he invites him to take the sofa of his and his wife Ludmilla’s studio flat. Naturally, drama ensues as Ludmilla falls for Volodya and Kolya takes the sofa. To complete the triangle, when Ludmilla announces her pregnancy, both men agree on abortion, and take more interest in the draughts board than in their joint lover’s wellbeing. As the action never leaves the crowded dwelling, the potential for tension is set, but as the minutes elapse there’s a deafening lack of crescendo.

At first, the libretto’s simplicity is charming. An opening song of noun after noun – the bed, the sofa, the wall calendar, the dressing screen – is an inventive introduction to the flat which, sadly, is Ludmilla’s whole world. But despite the artistic intention to keep up this feeling of claustrophobia throughout, this sing-song repetition soon begins to grate, and one feels that Laurence Klavan could have trusted his audience enough to err into slightly more descriptive linguistic territory.

In opposition to the libretto’s waning interest, Luke Sheppard’s direction physically waxes lyrical. His vision for the piece only sharpens as the drama unfolds, and his choice to exaggerate each wooden household movement generates electricity which the dialogue cannot. In fact, this show contained some of the most lucid and expressive moments of pure theatre I can remember. The shining highlight being the cinema scene where every desire, fear and anguish can be read on the faces of Alastair Brookshaw’s twinkling-eyed Volodya and Kaisa Hammarlund’s swooning Ludmilla – never have an audience been so entranced by three minutes of silent acting! The only issue with Sheppard’s imposing direction is that it overshadows the plot itself and the show begins to feel like a practical essay in ‘how to direct a substandard script’. This, of course, is no fault of Sheppard’s, but one begins to question the value of putting on shows because of their individuality, regardless of their potential to work as effective theatre.

Nevertheless, another benefit of producing such a show is an opportunity to showcase some outstanding musical talent and creative design genius. Propped up on the roof of the Moscow flat, Candida Caldicot and her three musical accomplices beam over the action and into the heart-beats of the audience. The music is so well executed and unapologetically organic, that one can see Caldicot peering over her shoulder to time her musical entrance to harmonise with Ludmilla’s own percussive output from the scrapings of a washing board. Polly Pen’s music is a continual delight, if not a little obscured by Klavan’s over- zealous lyrics and Sheppard’s absorbing physicality. The relationship between Caldicot’s piano and violin, viola and cello is subtle and dialogic – there’s no oppression as Caldicot will gladly take the back seat, merely tapping a low chord to keep time as Julia Stone, Raph Hurwitz and Maria Rodriguez exhibit their talents.

David Woodhead’s realistic and accurately textured design can be added to the list of the Finborough’s successes which always make you feel like you get your money’s worth. Here, the masterful touches come in the choice of a gate-legged table to indicate the futility of ‘re-arranging’ such a cramped and un-malleable space and of course the charming toy train which chugs whichever character is currently the third wheel off to a life of adventure. The aesthetic is perfect, and works in interesting opposition to the mime and rhythmically exaggerated gestures of the cast which normally are paired with a minimal, suggestive set.

Bed and Sofa is a show I wanted to love; the concept is inventive, the music unblemished, the direction supreme, and the design a delight. Unfortunately, the repetitive libretto became an imposing bore which made me think about the piece as a show ‘trying to do something’ rather than a world I was lost in with characters I wanted to see set free.

 

 

Box Office: www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk / 0844 847 1652

Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road
London
SW10 9ED

 

Tuesday to Saturday Evenings at 7.30pm.
Sunday Matinees at

3.00pm.
Saturday Matinees at 3.00pm (from 9th April 2011).

Tickets: £15/11

 


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