After many dark months for the theatre industry, with venues up and down the country unable to open, it was Wembley’s Troubadour theatre that opened the first large scale show. Sleepless, a musical adaptation of the classic Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan rom-com Sleepless In Seattle, began a month long socially distanced run, becoming a show like no other.
As an avid musicals fan, I had, like many others, been sorely missing the theatre. The last time I visited was in March, to see Dear Evan Hansen only days before they all closed, and was longing to see a live show again. I was so excited that the producers of Sleepless, Michael Rose and Damien Sanders, had made this possible, because we all knew this was going to be a challenging feat. I had to go and see it, not only because the show sounded just up my street, but also to support the industry that has been overlooked and in serious danger the past few months.
Being a socially distanced event, I have to speak about the setup of the theatre as well as the performance. I had never been to the Troubadour and it struck me as very different to the classic West End venues I am used to, because of its very modern design and feel. The theatre has great indoor and outdoor seating areas to wait in before the auditorium opens – the amount of space makes social distancing a doddle. I realised this would be more difficult in an older venue, where I can remember waiting around, packed into small and uncomfortable corridors.
Inside the auditorium, the capacity had been reduced from 1300 to 400 seats. Cutting back so much causes huge financial challenges, so I have much admiration for the producers making it possible to run. Keeping distance was very easy inside the auditorium, seats are purchased in household bubbles, in groups of between 1-4 people. There are ‘X’s on many of the seats, demonstrating the distance between everyone. I had a whole row to myself, giving me some unbeatable legroom that I could really get used to!
Being such a modern venue, there’s no stalls and circle but just one level on an incline, so you would have an excellent view wherever you sat – especially because there’s no one directly in front of you, another social distancing perk!
Being an adaptation of Sleepless in Seattle, the story is already familiar – a love story between widowed Sam, who’s son Jonah rang up a radio station talking about his wish for a new mum, and hopeless romantic Annie, who heard them on the radio. The musical starred Kimberley Walsh as Annie and Jay McGuiness as Sam, who both delivered stellar performances. I’ve read reviews saying their acting isn’t up to Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s standards, but I mean come on, they’re not Hollywood actors! I’m sure Hanks and Ryan could not have delivered the same incredible vocal performances, if we’re judging them like that!
The show flowed very well with never a dull moment, and even the supporting cast members had stand-out songs, including the memorable performance of ‘Now Or Never’ by Jonah and Sam’s best friend Rob. All of the songs were brand new and original – it was Annie’s songs that stood out for me, especially the Act 1 finale, ‘Things I Didn’t Do’. The creators of the musical have described it more of a ‘play with songs’ rather than a traditional musical, but the format worked very well, and a stunning dance number for the show’s finale satisfied any traditional musical lover.
The set design was remarkable, with a revolving house in the middle. Screens came down around it to create an airport, and boards around it towards the end to create a very realistic looking Empire State viewing platform. The Troubadour is a large, wide theatre and they made such great use of the space available.
Sleepless is only on for a few more days at the Troubadour, but it has definitely paved the way for other socially distanced shows to come. Slowly the steps are coming together for live venues to open up again and I can’t wait.