Like much ‘chick lit’, Sophie Kinsella’s 2001 novel Sleeping Arrangements is a disposable pleasure – a useful aid for passing the time on the Tube or on holiday, but hardly a ground-shaking piece of modern fiction. Even Kinsella’s most self-confessedly avid readers can muster only faint praise for the book on Amazon – yet writer Chris Burgess’s accomplished new musical production based on the book can’t be dismissed so easily.
The plot itself does little to inspire confidence – two families find themselves sharing a Spanish villa with too few beds and too much wine on a holiday that has all the makings of a Carry On farce. Seemingly by coincidence, there’s a long-forgotten sexual link between Hugh (Steven Serlin), a louche dad who shows little attention to his baby-sick scented wife Amanda (Liza Pulman), and Chloe (Jenny Gayner), whose marriage to Philip (Grant Neal) is, in chick-lit parlance, going nowhere.
Yet Burgess’s adaptation digs deep to find a reasonably well-considered look at the emotional consequences of sexual indiscretions. Gayner plays Chloe’s guilt and regret about her past exceptionally well, adding an essential note of tragedy to the story. Comedy is where the show finds its true strength, though, with Pulman’s brassy and impeccably comic performance as the increasingly libidinous Amanda taking centre-stage as the story wears on.
Indeed, cast and crew have clearly put in a lot of effort to deliver a polished show. With the use of only a few props in David Shields’ set, the action is shifted from boring Britain to sunny Spain: motel bedrooms, barbecues and all. The singing is top-notch, and as the lyrics flow fairly naturally from spoken-word scenes there’s no fundamental loss of credibility as the characters slip into song. Colin Billing’s score itself isn’t remarkable, though; soft ballad follows soft ballad, with an occasional touch of dash and flair to leaven the production – as with Amanda’s frankly superb belter about recovering her formidable sex-drive, and a dynamic performance by Adam Pettigrew as Chloe’s testosterone-addled teenage son.
Ultimately, though, both score and story have to reflect the production’s chick-lit provenance. Burgess has done well to emphasise the real drama lurking at the heart of Kinsella’s somewhat insipid original, but for all that we’re still left with a story that has to work too hard to fill nearly two and a half hours. Like drinking cheap sangria the outcome is pleasant enough, but you might still be left asking if it was worth the bother.