Sleepless at Troubadour
Updated: Sep 2, 2020
We were lucky enough to get to see the World Premier of the new musical comedy, Sleepless, based on the Tim Hanks film Sleepless in Seattle. We wouldn’t normally write a review of a production from the first preview but this production was special as it also marked the first full scale indoor theatre production since lockdown began. It was a historic moment. So it wasn’t just the show people were watching but also the theatre and the safety procedures put in place.
Before the show opened we had been told of the measures put in place for the cast and crew to keep them safe and give them comfort, including daily testing (with results within an hour and before they can interact with anyone) and removing Stagedoor interactions. Now it was time to see the measures in place for the audience.
Firstly, the ticketing is done so that seats are social distanced meaning the theatre is run at 50% capacity. Tickets are sold in groups of 1 to 4 on the website, similar to Regents Park Theatre. On arrival there were queues outside the theatre and they were late opening. As with most queues when they aren’t moving people started to bunch up and was quite an uncomfortable experience asking people to step back. If they open the theatre an hour before the show this problem should be removed.
Once you get to the gate however the whole process was much smoother with safety at the forefront. You are required to have a mask on before any interaction and keep it on throughout the venue. Your temperature is taken before entry and you are asked to fill in the NHS track and trace forms. Tickets need to be on your phone or printed at home so there is no contact with staff who will scan the tickets. Inside, the bar area is huge perfectly allowing for social distancing (at current theatre capacity) and the bar has screens as well as the option of online ordering. We hadn’t considered the awkwardness of attempting to drink with a mask on but we overcame this obstacle.
This is a great first step and will certainly help give comfort to anyone nervous about going to theatre, though, as always, people should consider any associated risk alongside their own circumstances carefully.
Then it’s onto the show. As this was the opening preview things could change but unlikely to be significant enough to change the overall view.
Sleepless is a romantic comedy focused on Sam, with his 10 year old son Jonah, who is mourning the loss of his wife a year earlier when his son decides to call into a radio show. Sam ends up pouring his heart out which is heard by journalist Annie in Maryland who feels this would be a great story. Annie is struggling with her own relationship and trying to decide if she is with the right man or settling, while simultaneously trying to meet Sam across the country.
Kimberley Walsh and Jay McGuiness are reunited (although they have very little stage time together) here as the leads Annie and Sam respectively after starring together at the Dominion Theatre last year in Big the musical, another Tom Hanks movie to musical adaptation, but this time with very different characters.
Jay McGuiness as the lead here seems out of his depth. While Tom Hanks could take on the role in Big and Sam in Sleepless in Seattle with ease Jay does not have the same acting range and struggles with the emotional depth this role requires. While he was perfectly suited to the playful and fun lead in Big this role is much more serious which is a misstep for him.
Kimberley Walsh on the other hand is perfect casting. She seems very at ease in the role and we were very impressed with her acting, bringing nuance and likeability to a flawed character. Her voice suited the music well and with each subsequent role she’s in her voice gets stronger and more self-assured.
But the undoubted star of the show was Jonah (played by Jack Reynolds) who stole the show on several occasions and, along with his partner in crime, Sam’s best friend Rob (played by Cory English) gets the best number of the show.
We have some criticism of the production though. The set choices are odd. With it’s small cast it should be an intimate show but the stage is so vast they struggle to fill it. There are even scenes where they move down to tables in front of the stage making it a needlessly bigger space. With the freedom they have this could easily have been rectified. The house set in the middle is well done and effective when in use but at times felt like it was needlessly spinning on the stage and you could see scenery being moved through the windows. The best set was for the Empire State Building, done with a simple set and clever lighting that made it effortlessly effective.
The music is fine yet uninspiring. It works within the show and there are some nice melodies and there are a couple of surprising moments, such as the Desperate Women song in the first act, but it’s not going to make anyone’s most listened to musicals list. But with the effective direction it’s fun to watch and you will get drawn into the story.
Overall it’s an enjoyable 3 star show with some moving moments. It’s not the big flashy productions of the west end and it doesn’t aim to be. It’s a simple retelling of a story with some pleasant music. It’s not something you’ll remember past it’s place in opening theatres but if you need your theatre fix or just a fun night out then this certainly fits the bill. It’s a great first step on the road to indoor theatres fully opening and we are grateful to the producers for pushing this.
It is on at The Troubadour Theatre until September 27th 2020 and tickets can be purchased from the theatre here