Running at the Landor, London until May 12.
It was really only a matter of time before chick-lit, or to perhaps give it its official title of light romantic comedy, began to be considered for adaptation to the stage. Admittedly Helen Fielding’s hugely popular Bridget Jones’ Diary appears to be languishing in development hell at present, but in the meantime there is a wealth of popular, holiday fiction waiting in the wings. Among the more popular British authors, Sophie Kinsella has certainly made her mark in the genre with previous series Confessions of a Shopaholic already adapted for the screen and now her 2001 best-seller Sleeping Arrangements has been adapted for the musical stage by writer and composer Chris Burgess.
The plot sees two families forced to share the free rental of a villa in Spain, thanks to mutual friend Gerard accidently double-booking. Chloe, Philip and their angsty teenage son Sam are facing money problems and desperately need the break to think about their future. Financier Hugh and Amanda are new parents and need the break simply to reacquaint themselves with each other, so they hire a nanny to guarantee some time alone. Furious at first, the two families settle on sleeping arrangements in the not unsubstantial villa, but what nobody knows is that Hugh and Chloe have a history.
Burgess’ musical adaptation certainly captures the spirit of the genre and his libretto carries all the humour, romance and middle-class values you might expect from a popular holiday read. His musical style might bear a little variation, but Burgess writes a particularly healthy romantic ballad and when he sets his mind to it, a real scene-stealer of a comedy number. The problem perhaps lies with the middle ground, where presumably in a desire for naturalism the score becomes slightly repetitive.
There are some beautiful numbers, capturing Chloe’s emotional dilemma and the excellent title song, a recurring theme that echoes and adapts throughout. Then there is the Act II show-stopper from Amanda, a wonderful Liza Pulman finally getting a chance to lose the twins and let loose as Superwoman, plus a duet for the guys where Philip and Hugh finally bond over women and red wine, that shows much promise. There are also some weaker moments, particularly with Sam, whose number demonstrates way too much self-knowledge and uses too many obvious jokes to sit easily in the score.
These issues aside, Sleeping Arrangements remains a highly entertaining piece of musical theatre and features some charming performances. Chloe, easily the most sympathetic character in the piece, is sensitively portrayed by Jenny Gayner in a grounded performance that exhibits a very real sense of frailty and strength. Pulman’s brittle Amanda is superb and carries the lion’s share of the humour, and it is refreshing to see Grant Neal as Philip and Steven Serlin as Hugh excel in roles that highlight their not inconsiderable looks and talent. Providing the down-to-earth comedy, Sabina Aloueche evidently enjoys the role of Jenna, the deeply practical nanny with an adventurous side, opposite Adam Pettigrew’s surly Sam.
Musical director Colin Billing leads a strong ensemble of musicians, notably Ashley Blassee, who provides a lilting guitar entr’act complementing designer David Shield’s sun-washed stone villa to perfection. Director Robert McWhir corrals the ensemble expertly and with a characteristic lightness of touch so necessary for a chamber piece such as this. Undoubtedly the discovery here is the quietly talented Burgess, who despite some flaws has crafted a strong musical comedy supported by a score that easily equals the book – a rare find indeed in a theatrical hyphenate.