Sideways: The Play enjoyed a sell-out stint at La Jolla Playhouse in California, and now this Pinot Noir praising, Merlot pounding comedy has arrived in London. The production is directed by David Grindley and written by Rex Pickett – who also wrote the original novel which became the Academy Award and Golden Globe winning film in the hands of director Alexander Payne. Sideways follows a depressed and struggling writer, Miles, and his friend Jack – an actor and ladies’ man – as they journey through Santa Barbara on a final blow-out before Jack gets married. They attend wine tastings and talk at length about their personal lives. It is on this trip that they meet two single, attractive and intelligent women, Maya and Terra, who become the pair’s game changers.
Laura Hopkins’ set design which is led by wooden walls and wine bars, transports us adequately to California’s wine country, whilst Fergus O’Hare’s light jazz between scenes sets the playful and airy tone required. Grindley’s stage adaptation doesn’t quite copy Payne’s film scene for scene. As well as undergoing a bit of modernisation – the film’s frequent payphone moments have been replaced by mobile calls for example – to make Sideways work as a play, the order of certain events and conversations have been chopped up and recompiled. The wine tasting theme is popped open and revelled in instantly here, with Miles swirling and sniffing his glass from his unglamorous opening position of sitting on the toilet – a location which exposes his weakness whilst symbolising his worries of his life going down the pan.
Daniel Weyman’s Miles is more sarcastic and overtly geeky than Paul Giamatti’s film interpretation. Weyman swaps Giamatti’s deadpan humour for more physical comedy, bending at the knees as he weakens for wine, for example. Pickett has adapted the script to focus more gags around Miles’s pompously wordy style of talking. Miles and Jack (Simon Harrison) are the ideal contrast to one another: Jack “has no taste, only appetite”, according to Miles and is on a mission to “touch fresh pussy before (he) settles down”; Miles on the other hand gets more pleasure out of “popping his ’82 Latour”. Harrison’s Jack neutralises Miles’s sombre demeanour with his crude, happy-go-lucky manner. Between Weyman’s wordy lines and Harrison’s reactions – largely achieved through facial expressions – the duo have the audience roaring with laughter.
Ellie Piercy’s Maya and Beth Condignly as Tarra match Weyman and Giamatti’s double act with their authentic, impassioned performances. Piercy portrays Maya as an animated, hugely likable character, although her Californian accent with its infiltrating British tones could do with refining. Cordingly steals the show in its climax, as Tarra discovers the truth about Jack; her wildly physical performance compliments Pickett’s strong script and she balances anger with humour perfectly, prompting the auditorium to break out in applause as she storms off the stage.
At two hours and 40 minutes, Sideways is a little on the long side. Needless to say, the copious glasses of wine sipped or glugged throughout are described with descriptions so sensual they’ll leave you craving a glass yourself – just don’t make it a Merlot.
Sideways: The Play is playing St. James Theatre until 9 July 2016. For more information and tickets, see St James Theatre website.