Sleepless, A Musical Romance
Troubadour Wembley Park
Reviewed – 1st September 2020
“contains moments of honestly and heartfelt brilliance, but it is undoubtedly let down by its inconsistencies throughout“
Sleepless closely follows the storyline of Meg Ryan & Tom Hanks’ smash hit film Sleepless in Seattle; a tale of two lost people, brought together by a little boy who calls up a radio station to seek out a new bride for his widowed father. In this story, the widow Sam (Jay McGuiness), was an awkward, hopelessly romantic architect and Annie (Kimberley Walsh) was a journalist, desperate to escape her current romantic predicament. This production was beautifully played by a 12-strong band, which worked with elements of Jazz to create a 1930s elegance and atmosphere whilst successfully, under Morgan Young’s direction, managing to remain in its 1990s setting.
Michael Rose and Damien Sanders have clearly put together this production for no financial gain, but only to demonstrate a total love of theatre and bring us all to what we have been starved of for too long. But despite really wanting to love this show, its disjointed nature left the production falling slightly flat. The opening numbers, intended to imitate a bleakness of the couple’s lives without love, were limp and awkward, making the intensely contrasting colour, that was unsubtly injected as the show progressed, too much. What I found particularly frustrating was that there was no moment where either protagonist sang about how they actually felt about the other, instead, all of this tangible emotion was given to secondary characters, and it was these songs, along with the technical aspects of the show that were the best parts of the production.
Jonah (Jobe Hart) outshone the rest of the cast with his confidence and commitment to be the naïve but cheeky son of Sam. In particular, his performance of ‘Now or Never’ where he showed off his ability to be the ‘triple threat’, conveying his agile dance moves and crystal-clear singing voice. Other standout moments from secondary characters were ‘Dear Sleepless,’ performed by Patsy (Charlie Bull), Marissa (Leanne Garretty) & Nancy (Dominique Planter), which was a welcome burst of energy, expressing the actual emotive response to the radio station call. Planter was particularly brilliant in this; her short solo was packed with humour and confidence. Finally, Harriet Thorpe, whose portrayal of Eleanor, Annie’s mother, was filled with charm and promise; her song ‘The Way He Said My Name’, was genuine and heart-warming.
I wasn’t entirely convinced by the two lovers, who both did have moments of relieving brilliance and whose singing was as expert as you’d expect, but whose awkward demeanours didn’t quite work. Annie’s song ‘Things I Didn’t Do’ was entirely captivating and showed a flash of true humanity. However, and maybe at fault of the script, in moments of panic, whereby she spoke quickly about the pronunciation of different words (a theme that was carried out across the show) was unconvincing and false. Jay McGuiness’ portrayal of Sam lacked gumption. His awkward, bereft demeanour didn’t play hand in hand and so the moments which did work, which were solely linked to his relationship with Jonah, felt as if they were entirely carried by Jobe Hart’s energy and dynamism.
The key brilliance in this piece came from the set (Morgan Large) and lighting (Ken Billington), which worked spectacularly together to create an architectural vision in order to mirror Sam’s profession. The set spun centrally to convey various rooms seamlessly, whilst externally to this, a stressed paint on wooden boards worked to imitate the waterside accommodation of Sam’s house as well as giving an ‘edgy’ feel to Annie’s home and workplace. Cabaret seating was used by both the cast and the audience at the front of the theatre and it worked beautifully to include the audience as part of the chorus; making us a part of the hustle of New York or joining them in an intimate and romantic restaurant.
Sleepless definitely contains moments of honestly and heartfelt brilliance, but it is undoubtedly let down by its inconsistencies throughout. It is a show for people who really like musicals, but not an all-time great.
Reviewed by Mimi Monteith
Photography by Alastair Muir
Sleepless, A Musical Romance
Troubadour Wembley Park until 27th September
Previously reviewed at this venue: