Sideways – The Play

St. James Theatre, London, until July 9th 2016

✩✩✩✩

I have seen the Oscar-winning movie ‘Sideways’, read the semi-autobiographical book by Rex Pickett it was based on and now I have seen the play, also written by Mr. Pickett, and I can honestly say: I love them all.

For some reason, this story of two friends going on a wine-soaked road trip to California’s Santa Ynez Valley before one of them gets married works in every media. I put it down to the superbly written dialogue, the humour and the obvious love of language of Rex Pickett, as well as the wonderful characters he has created: flawed, but extremely likeable, even when they are at their worst.

The movie has fantastic actors in it and the wonderful Californian landscape as a backdrop and the book lets you linger over and re-read every sentence, but the play is so funny, fresh and immediate with a terrific cast, it rightly deserves to be looked at as a stand-alone.

The casting in this production is spot on and it’s a joy to watch the actors perform under David Grindley’s direction.

The friendship between the two male characters seems to be genuine, even though they are polar opposites and have a completely different outlook on life.

Daniel Weyman is wonderful as Miles, the unsuccessful writer, a sensitive and decent guy constantly finding himself on the losing side. He is depressed about his divorce and the 65 rejection letters he has received for his novel, but seems to have found his purpose in life by worshipping at the altar of Pinot Noir.

His actor & director friend and groom-to-be, Jack, played by Simon Harrison, comes across not as dumb as the Jack in the movie, but as a lovable jack-the-lad who wants nothing more than one last fling before getting married. It does help that he is quite a hit with the ladies who find his boyish charm irresistible.

And it’s not long before these two hook up with Maya (Ellie Piercy), a waitress in a restaurant, whom Miles has known for a while, and Terra (Beth Cordingly), who works at a wine tasting room; two feisty independent women and wine buffs who could give Miles a run for his money when it comes to grapes. Maya, has just come out of a very unhappy marriage, but is ready to find love again, and Terra is a bit of a wild child who is hoping to finally meet the right guy to settle down with, maybe open a winery…. Both actresses are very believable in their roles.

So here we are: two guys, two girls, an incredible – and I mean incredible – amount of wine being consumed and this is when things go sideways – with funny, devastating, touching and hilarious consequences.

The main cast are ably assisted by Daniel Barry, Kirsten Hazel Smith and Anne Kavanagh who all appear in various roles. Watch out for Ms Kavanagh’s turn as Miles’ mum!

As the book and film are basically a road trip with lots of location changes, one thing I had been wondering about was how this would be dealt with on a stage, but this was solved beautifully by designer Laura Hopkins. Scene changes worked with just two sliding and folding screens and magically appearing props, different lighting and sound effects, like chirping crickets. In just a few seconds an outdoor setting was turned into a motel room and then into a restaurant. Light design is by Mark Howland and sound design by Fergus O’Hare.

I enjoyed this play enormously. All I want to do know is re-read the book, re-watch the movie and go and see the play again. And drink a very large glass of delicious Pinot Noir.

http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk

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