11 November 2021
VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE (Charing Cross Theatre) Review
When a run of this play was announced pre-Covid, it caught my eye because of Janie Dee, so I was rather pleased to see it getting rescheduled. I rarely read plot summaries beforehand, as I want to be surprised during the show, but I did look up the basic details and went to the show knowing that Christopher Durang wrote this Chekhov-inspired play in 2012 and won a Tony (of all things!) a year later after the play’s stint on Broadway with its cast boasting David Hyde Pierce and Sigourney Weaver among others.
First things first: the play itself. For my liking, the play is muddled. It’s like Durang can’t work out if he is writing a spoof, a comedy, a socio-political indictment, or a panto. There are lots of nods to Chekhov that are clever and well-placed, but there is lots of inconsequential dribble. The whole “5 kilometres uphill” spiel about the era gone by goes on far longer than it needs to. Every characters (except Masha) is a caricature that’s exaggerated so much, it hurt. Obviously the play is what it is, but I expected more (and better, if I’m honest).
That said, Janie Dee is smashing in it. She is a suave Hollywood actress who’s come home to visit her dumpy brother and sister (there is more to it, but I won’t spoil the plot for you, though, if you know a bit of Chekhov, you can pretty much guess it). Dee is funny of course, but she also manages to play every scene where she is meant to be an obnoxious drama queen without going to far as to bend it into a panto. She lights up the stage, so, much as I was pleased to see her perform after such a long break, I kept wishing she had a stronger piece of writing to back her.
Michael Maloney and Rebecca Lacey are the aforementioned brother and sister bumpkins. Maloney does as much as he can with the script he’s got, but, oddly enough, I wanted him to be more “out there”. There is a bit of “is he gay or is he straight” wiggle room at the start of the play, and I think a lot more could’ve been done with a look here and a movement there. In a play where almost everyone is overacting, he was too subtle and got pretty much drowned out. Lacey, on the flip side, was overly dramatic (possibly to compensate?), which didn’t quite fit in the first act, but was alright in the second half.
Charlie Maher, Sara Powell, and Lukwesa Mwamba went with straight-up panto. Not sure how much of it was from the director (Walter Bobbie)… It may’ve been ok if everyone leaned that way, but this is supposed to be a comedic play, so this mishmash of styles was downright odd.
On balance, however, it was enjoyable, chucklesome, and a pleasant evening overall. If one after seeing show that’s full of giggles where you don’t have to ponder the universe, it is certainly worth checking out.
Cheapskate enjoyment value: £3.
Covid Note: Massively annoyed at the theatre not requiring masks, especially since this is a comedy, so a lot of laughter means projectile spittle…