‘Sleepova’ review – Quartet’s coming of age is cosy and confrontational


Do not sleep on the Bush Theatre’s latest vibrant production. Sleepova, about the challenges facing a group of four friends on the cusp of adulthood, can so easily – and so wrongly – be dismissed as a laidback nostalgia trip (blasting out the likes of Paramore and Nicki Minaj), but it is instead a far more intricate, lively and electric slow-burner on the liberties childhood friendships can bring, and the adult barriers blocking life’s inevitable transitions.

Playwright Matilda Feyiṣayọ Ibini rustles up a rich and relatable dynamic between the quartet, nurtured in Jade Lewis’ energetic directorship in a way which convinces us of a true chemistry within the company – three of whom make powerful professional debuts in this production. There’s mum of the group and sickle cell sufferer Shan (Aliyah Odoffin); shy and timid Christian Elle (Shayde Sinclair); sassy and smart self-described entrepreneur Funmi (Bukky Bakray); and Rey (Amber Grappy), a thick-skinned queer woman. Continuing the cosy vibes, there’s a comfortable familiarity to their personalities.

While they indulge themselves in horror movies, exam woes and their shared dislike of boys at first, conversation soon turns to the curiously existential and what the future holds. It isn’t long before our attention turns to Elle, and her controlling parents who won’t let her sleepover for the night and are strict about her faith. Rey is distant from her step-mum, Shan from her father, and Funmi comes with the all too bittersweet childhood fiction that our parents can live forever. There’s no doubt they band together over popcorn and pop music to get away from the fractured familial relationships and cling on to childhood for as long as they can, but underneath the innocence lies the smart but subtle idea that it’s how we handle and settle the adult connections in our lives which pave the way for us to become adults ourselves.

Of course, this requires the acknowledgement of some difficult truths interspersed within that. Shan has to confront her own mortality with a life-limiting condition and how she communicates that to others (the representation of which feels so novel and so needed in how candidly it is expressed by Odoffin), and Elle faces a difficult battle between faith and sexuality (again, this brings to light another subject – conversion therapy – which feels so under-explored on our theatre stages).

Giving equal and fair weight to four subplots under these wider narrative themes can seem like a lot to handle, and perhaps overwhelming when I describe them in written form above, but the script weaves them together beautifully. As I watched with a playtext in hand at the far back of the auditorium, I noticed one particular scene had been skipped by director Lewis – one which would have seen the four subplots progress simultaneously rather than stand out in their own right.

It’s a bold but effective decision, though at times it could have extended to dialogue and scenes aired out underneath pulsing lighting (gorgeously done by Elliot Griggs) and prom classics. Although great for the nostalgia – of which this production has plenty – it comes across as a tad superfluous and insignificant at times, with little lost in terms of flow or plot progression if they were axed altogether (the only exception being the conclusion to Act One, which comes with a genuinely shocking and dramatic twist on the dance floor).

Make no mistake, however, that this play is both pleasant and powerful, handling childhood memories with a loving and calming gentleness, while at the same time being unafraid to explore life’s many different curveballs. Sleepova is a charming and confident display of camaraderie, and an impressive group performance

Sleepova is now playing at the Bush Theatre until 8 April.

All showings take place in a relaxed environment, with sensory adapted performances scheduled for 11 and 30 March.

Captioned performances will take place on 16 and 25 March, while audio described performances are scheduled for 18 and 23 March.

Production Images: Helen Murray.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Sleepova’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.

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