Just The Tonic at The Caves – Just The Big Room
[Due to an oversight, we had two reviewers attend this show at different dates. You can read the 1st review here]
It’s my birthday next month (feel free to address cards/gifts/chocolates to Everything Theatre HQ). I’m going to be 28, which I feel is still quite young. Watching Sleepover, however, I’ve never felt so old. The play is a coming-of-age comedy musical about sexual self-discovery. Jenny (Laura Chan) is hosting one final sleepover before leaving for university, and before she leaves she has questions. Questions like: are her boobs weird? Does sex hurt? Why are there so many positions? She’s determined to get the answers out of her friends.
My central issue with the production is that it feels immature – inappropriate even – and for a while I struggle to put my finger on why. Eventually I realise that it’s because of the lack of consistency between theme, setting and character. The set is all dressed pastel and pink and there’s a cute tent, filled with stuffed animals. In short, it looks ready for a group of young girls to sleepover, not young adults. And then there’s the questions about sex, and the way they’re presented, in embarrassed tones – this feels very ‘about to start high school’, not higher education. I found myself squirming in a way I hadn’t since an awkward sex-ed lesson I had in year 5. All of this just doesn’t seem to fit with the fact these girls are meant to be 17. I find it quite jarring and occasionally awkward. This isn’t assisted by the cramped staging when the characters retreat to the tent.
As we go from question to question, each sparking their own song, there are some really fun, energetic and hilarious moments. In particular Anita (Regina Agard-Brathwaite) injects impetus and vigour that is lacking elsewhere. A highlight is the absolute side-splitting curveball nature of Nina (Michelle Zhang) and her boyfriend Wilson’s relationship. Although a lot of the songs have amusing segments and are often catchy, too frequently they don’t develop beyond the initial punchline and fail to capitalise on the energy they initially create. This wasn’t aided by some of the cast’s microphones struggling throughout the musical. It was a real shame as there were moments where the actors really connected with the audience and raised the temperature of the vaulted space, but sadly these fizzled out.
There were times when the show threatened to become more serious and moving. As Jenny revealed past trauma in a moving piano ballad I felt a swell of sympathy toward her. When tackling other social issues, though, topics appeared to be skipped over, seemingly ticked off for content. As a result, despite so many references to topical social issues, the piece felt more vapid than meaningful. Sleepover does have some standout hilarious moments. Sadly these aren’t enough to rectify an inconsistent tone and under-developed musical numbers. Perhaps this reviewer was indeed too old for this show, but he left with more questions than answers.
Written by: Laura Chan
Directed by: Mia Urwin
Produced by: Elaina Ough
Lighting Design by: Tungsten Tang