BED AND SOFA
music by Polly Pen libretto by Laurence Klavan based on the film by Abram Room.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 23 April 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 April.
If you’ve ever wanted to hear someone singing “I’m being sent on a trip to the new housing project in Rostov,” don’t miss this.
It’s not unknown to base a stage musical on a (non-musical) film – She Loves Me, which opens this year’s Chichester Festival season, derives from Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner. But basing one on a silent film asks more; where do the words come from – the title-cards?
Or are they the source of the distinctive interpolations by Penelope Keith in Luke Sheppard’s Finborough production? It’s delightful to hear Keith’s ultra-English tones detailing what “Lenin said,” or “Marx wrote,” even if the more satirical voiceovers sound like country-house putdowns of the soviet system.
Satire was something with which Abram Room, Lithuanian director of the original 1927 film, needed no help. While other filmmakers hymned communist achievements grand-style, Room focused on three people, unemployment and the housing shortage.
There’s an underlying resemblance in story, though not manner, to Harold Pinter’s work, in the importance of territorial possession. Construction worker Kolya and wife Ludmilla have a small flat. When Kolya meets a wartime companion, unemployed printer Volodya, unable to work in Moscow as he has no home, Kolya invites him to use their sofa.
Inevitably the three-way relationships develop and shift, leading to Kolya’s dispossession from Ludmilla’s bed. And there are times she can hardly get a word in as the men hymn wartime friendship or become obsessed with the chequerboard – this was two years after Vsevolod Pudovkin’s short film Chess Fever showed a young woman losing her lover to the game sweeping Russia.
Amid all this Ludmilla (Kaisa Hammarlund, excellent, as is all the cast) announces she’s pregnant, introducing a solo section as she explores her feelings and possible actions. It’s here Polly Pen’s continuous score has a chance for lyricism, though its main concern is following the sense of words, with instrumental (piano and string trio) detail adding commentary.
If through-composed, libretto-bound musicals setting often mundane lines is your cup of vodka you’ll doubtless go for it. And there’s cunning musical elaboration of the shifting relationships as “bed” and “sofa” play against each other, while Sheppard’s production details Ludmilla and Volodya’s mutual attraction during, aptly enough, a cinema visit.
Announcer: (voice of) Penelope Keith.
Volodya: Alastair Brookshaw.
Ludmilla: Kaisa Hammarlund.
Kolya: Alastair Parker.
Director: Luke Sheppard.
Designer: David Woodhead.
Lighting: Howard Hudson.
Sound: Edward Lewis.
Musical Director: Candida Caldicot.
Movement: Lucy Cullingford.
Costume: Simon Anthony Wells.
Assistant director: Katy Rudd.
Assistant musical director: Fergal O’Mahony.