“We’ll take the bed and you, the sofa”
The second main show in the In Their Place season at the Finborough is the European premiere of Bed and Sofa, a silent movie musical. Based on the 1926 Russian film comedy by Abram Room where a housing crisis in Moscow leads Kolya to invite newly arrived Volodya, an old war comrade, to stay with him and his wife Ludmilla in their small apartment. But Ludmilla’s head is turned by the new arrival and as she decides which, if either, of the men she prefers, the sleeping arrangements i.e. who will take the bed with her and who will take the sofa take surprising turns.
Kaisa Hammarlund’s beautifully expressive Ludmilla was a joy to listen to and watch and Matilda alumnus Alastair Parker’s sexy bearish Kolya with his sometime booming baritone was nicely contrasted with Alastair Brookshaw’s sweeter Volodya as the old comrades competing for her heart. Adopting much of the style of movement of silent films kept things genial and light-hearted and produces the occasional piece of pure magic, the scene in the cinema was both totally convincing and beautifully played.
But there was also a sense that this was perhaps a one-joke piece extended just a little too long. The lack of variation meant there was little genuine emotional involvement in the story, even as the story takes a darker turn. This was something not assisted by Klavan’s libretto which really is a one-trick pony of repetition, the humour of which soon wears thin. Pen’s music fitfully rises to the challenge, one densely counterpointed trio reaching Sondheim-ish heights of frustrated dreams, but too often the energy just isn’t there to pull us through the mundaneness of much of the material.
David Woodhead’s design is niftily done, creating the cramped apartment effectively complete with calendar of Stalin and situating the four person band on top of it. Led by Candida Caldicot from the keys, she and the other string players did extremely well in what must become rather a rather hot cramped space. The rather random addition of Penelope Keith voicing mocking interludes, puncturing much of the Stalinist ideology of the time is an excellent touch, injecting much needed laughter and a wry humour that made this an interesting, if a little wearing, evening.