This boozed-up and Giamatti-less theatre production of Sideways fails to live up to its big screen cousin

 
Steve Dinneen
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Ellie Piercy, Daniel Weyman, Beth Cordingly and Simon Harrison in Sideways (Source: Pamela Raith)

St James Theatre | ★★☆☆☆

If you could forget about Sideways, the Oscar-winning film starring Paul Giamatti, this play (by the author of the original novel but based on the movie) would be a passable if unremarkable comedy. But the film does exist: it’s a brilliant, poignant exploration of obsession. This production is a poor cousin that does little to justify a second outing.

It follows tortured (unpublished) author Miles and his boorish jock buddy Jack as they tear up wine-country before the latter’s wedding. Miles wants to drink Pinot and wallow in his divorce; Jack wants to get laid.

Both lead actors are fine in isolation – especially Daniel Weyman as Miles – but they share little chemistry, and are at their best when the love interests Maya and Stephanie show up. The play has a certain obnoxious charm, but it lacks nuance, and without the impeccable delivery of Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church, lines like: “Does it ever occur to you that sometimes women just wanna get pounded?” come across as misogynistic jokes, rather than jokes about misogynistic men.

The set, meanwhile, is sparse and not terribly evocative of Californian wine country, with hoardings dragged around ungracefully by the cast during scene changes.

The stand-out moment in the film – the line that probably convinced half the audience to sign up for this play – is Miles’ yelling: “I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot!” Those two seconds of film are credited with sending sales of Merlot plummeting. Here, it gets a half-hearted ripple of laughter that’s born more out of expectation than genuine humour.

It hits a kind of woozy groove as it enters the second half, with the characters growing on you and the actors settling into the roles, and seeing Miles and Jack brought to life again has a nostalgic charm. But you’d be better off sitting down to watch the DVD with a nice glass of Pinot.

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