Gen Z has arrived. Sleepover, a new original musical, blasts on stage with a penchant for stuffed toys, emojis, bold coloured matching satin pyjama sets, and explicit discussions about pegging.
A bingo card of current issues
Discussing teenage sexuality (especially for girls) is a minefield – just ask the creators of Disney’s film Turning Red, which received a huge backlash earlier this year for suggesting that a young teenage girl might harbour a crush. The girls in Sleepover are a little older than those in Turning Red – seventeen years old in this case, but still teetering on the border between child and adult. It’s certainly brave of Sleepover’s creators to want to break down boundaries around taboos around sex, particularly for young women of colour, knowing that many might find it too embarrassing or controversial. However, despite their best intentions, Sleepover never fully confronts the issues it wants to address.
From the start, the central conceit is difficult to buy into. Naïve protagonist Jenny (played by Laura Chan) has created a kind of truth or truth game to try and trick her friends into answering her frank questions about sex. Would an intelligent seventeen-year-old ready to go to college really believe that her friends would going along with this? Next, this sleepover is meant to be the big goodbye sleepover between besties. The coming-of-age moment that will define the beginning of the rest of their lives. However, out of the three girls attending the sleepover, it seems that two aren’t acquainted well at all, which removes much of the dramatic poignancy from the event. Whether they remain friends in the future doesn’t really matter if they’re not really friends now.
Sleepover is like a bingo card of current issues, but although many are checked off by the end of the performance, they are also too quickly glossed over. Trying to address fears around body confidence, inverted nipples, stretch marks, peer pressure, losing their virginity, sexual preferences, religious beliefs, cultural differences, and more becomes too much to fully tackle in an hour-long lighthearted musical. When one character reveals she has been abused, the scene ends with a simple panacea of a hug before the characters quickly move on yet again. You don’t expect these three teenage girls to have all the answers, but it felt too lightweight a reaction to such a heavy topic.
Admittedly, the titular song Sleepover is pretty catchy – you’re likely to find yourself humming the chorus throughout the rest of the day – and White Man Ban is as political as Sleepover dares to be, putting Regina Agard-Brathwaite in the spotlight as Anita, who wows with her vocals as she vows to never sleep with a white man and criticises Jenny for not wanting to date within her race. Completing the core trio is Michelle Zhang who plays Nina and expertly manages the tricky job of convincing us that she loves both pegging and Jesus.
One moment that really captures your attention is a sweet and simple melody sung by Chan at the keyboard. Her voice is delicate at first but becomes raw with emotion. Even though there issues with the script, the three leads are warm, funny, and clearly talented, and it’s very impressive for Chan to have written the whole production taking in influences of Caribbean, rap, and Chinese music, as well as performing the starring role.
You can’t help but admire a company who are looking to reclaim sleepovers from the almost exclusively white Sweet Valley High style narrative. No doubt this crew will take over the world, but hopefully in future they’ll take it one step at a time.