Quite a lot of musicals (by my standards anyway) lately, this time at the Finborough where as part of their women writers' season "In Their Place" we have a female composer, Polly Pen and Bed and Sofa, which she and Laurence Klavan adapted from Abram Room's silent movie. Moscow in 1926 and there's a housing shortage (although you'd better not mention that out loud or Stalin'll get you.) Volodya (Alastair Brookshaw) can't work without a place to live but his old army buddy Kolya (Alastair Parker) invites him to take the sofa at his tiny flat. When Kolya has to go away for a few weeks his wife Ludmilla (Kaisa Hammarlund) is left in the flat with Volodya and what happens next should be pretty obvious. Once Kolya returns this ménage à trois takes numerous different configurations until almost every combination has shared the bed and sofa.
The performers are all strong and likeable, Brookshaw's voice not quite as powerful as the other two's but still clear enough in this small space (and nice to see the Finborough hasn't joined in with this odd recent trend of miking up musicals in tiny venues that clearly don't need it.) After a slow start Luke Sheppard's production, which plays up the story's origin with lots of silent movie-style gesturing and white face makeup, takes on a bittersweet charm and is enjoyable enough, if rather slight. The music works best when the trio are singing together - solos rather show up how limited Pen's score is (the programme notes, presumably jokingly, say she wanted to write a musical that didn't involve her actually writing much music; joke or not, it does seem rather true in the end result.) The production also features the recorded voice of Penelope Keith as a stern announcer mainly reciting quotations from famous communist figures; these bits are occasionally amusing but don't really add much to the show. David Woodhead's set has some great attention to detail (I loved the authentically stern-looking photo of Hammarlund on the wall) and a tiny toy train nearly steals the show. When it was first produced in New York in 1996, Bed and Sofa got second place in a Best Musical award - having now seen it, it's not really a big surprise that Rent pipped it to first prize.
Bed and Sofa by Polly Pen and Laurence Klavan, based on the film by Abram Room, is booking until the 23rd of April at the Finborough Theatre.