Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society’s new musical SLEEPOVER is both warm and enveloping and uncompromising.
The lighting design is gorgeous (bisexual lighting—I see you) and from the moment of seeing the empty pizza box on stage I was there, transported to the bedroom of a childhood friend, 8 pm streetlights streaming through the window in my imagination.
Three seventeen-year-old girls convene at Jenny’s first sleepover before she heads to university. Jenny has created a card game, appropriately called ‘Sleepover,’ as a way of beginning a conversation about sex, attempting to pass off the game as a card game available in stores made by ‘Nintendo.’ The questions however, are too personal and specific for this to be believed, a comedic setup that gets considerable mileage. Intrinsic to the musical are the girls’ immigrant backgrounds. Jenny explains that she has never had a sleepover before because she was told ‘Chinese Jamaicans don’t have sleepovers.’
Jenny and her best friends, Anita and Nina, have different levels of sexual experience, which they continually needle each other about in a best-friend way. Nina, a devout Christian, has the most experience and we get to discover the mystery of what having sex ‘in a Godly way’ means.
The musical numbers occur naturally with many of them appearing to be sung within the world of the play. Tensions of conflict mount as the game and the musical continues. They argue with each other, real arguments that wound. Eventually Jenny reveals that there is a more serious factor impacting her relationship to sex. At this point the tone of the musical shifts, what had been bright and upbeat, if tinged with the melancholy of potentially being their last time together, is overtaken by an atmosphere of profound care. It is clear that although Jenny is leaving, this will not be their last time together and that whatever happens they will have each other’s backs.
SLEEPOVER takes care of its audience, the same way that beneath any bickering there is an unshakable foundation of friendship between the characters. Most of all, SLEEPOVER rings true—in the worries that accompany childhood’s end, in the stakes and strife of adolescence, in staying awake to not miss any moments with your friends. In addition to being much funnier than most, SLEEPOVER is thoughtful and genuine in a messy, uncontained way that commercial musicals often struggle to be.
5/5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
SLEEPOVER is in the Big Room at Just the Tonic at the Caves at 16:30, August 19-28