Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Review Sideways

by Rex Pickett

Through The Grapevine

It's tough for Miles. He's a would-be novelist with a sheaf of rejection letters and more in the post. That's a failed novelist with rejection letters and a failed marriage behind him. 

Oh yes, a failed novelist with a failed marriage, popping prescription drugs. With (failed) actor Jack as a mate. That's Jack who has made a foray into voiceovers and TV directing but now has settled for a forthcoming marriage to a fiancee with a trust fund.

Oh but we mustn't forget Miles's passion for the wines of California and his stock of bottles filled with the most exquisite vintages he can afford.

In 2004 the Sideways movie, adapted from Rex Pickett's semi-autobiographical novel and directed by Alexander Payne, was a hit movie with numerous awards, even affecting wine sales according to Miles's likes and dislikes. 

Now Pickett has adapted his novel into a stage play directed by David Grindley which, of course, we should take on its own play-tasting terms but somehow can't forget savouring the fragile 2004 movie vintage.

The movie, full of lush Californian landscapes and a gently humorous entrée into esoteric world of wine tasting, followed the two pals on their road trip through Califonian wine country, Miles seeking more wines to savour and Jack seeking - Jack seeking, well, to get laid before his wedding.
The play is well enough acted by Daniel Weyman as yearning and eager-to-impress Miles, while Simon Harrison takes on the role of Jack. 

But it loses the visual contrast of the film's characters. the feeling of a novelist and actor "in plain clothes" and frenzied recompense sought in wine tasting and womanizing..

Despite the clunky scene changes, (and with our special interest TLT and her own London cadillac are always ready to go on the road with a play! ;)), we were slightly more drawn in when we realised designer Laura Hopkins's scenery flats were, in fact, book covers.

However this delicate and very clever touch was a little obscured in the blunt instrument of the play. The bare bones script, although laced with some wit, becomes ponderous stripped of the chance to delve into the Californian landscapes, sunsets and manicured vineyards.

Emotional turning points never develop into exquisitely fruity consequences until perhaps the last quarter of the play when a harder-edged humour, tearing us away from the movie, makes its mark, relating fluently with the book cover scenery and novelist success fantasy of a middle-aged man.

But youngsters may wonder why Miles doesn't self-publish and how come hot waitress Maya (Ellie Piercy) and tasting room manager Terra (Beth Cordingly), who must come across any number of pretentious fakes, would not be more suspicious of Jack and Miles.

A two-act play, this felt a tad bloated and might well have worked better as a quicker paced  shorter piece where cash transactions, the tricksy relationship between writer and actor - and literature and viticulture  - might have made for something more full-bodied. 

Anyway, using up our quota of wine puns,  it's a mellow amber light for a volatile piece with some crisper moments.

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