Thursday, 18 November 2021

REVIEW: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Charing Cross Theatre

The overwhelming sensation I got from my two hours and twenty in Charing Cross Theatre, was nostalgia, but the good kind. The nostalgia that feels like a hug, the kind that feels like a Nora Ephron movie. We enter an open stage with a cosy house set, squishy Ephron esque interior, the lighting feeling like a warm autumnal glow over the wooden house. You can almost smell the pine and coffee. It's everything a British person would assume that prolific American period felt like. 

As most Chekhovian plays are, Vanya (et al) is about everything and nothing. The action plays out in one room over around 48 hours, and we see our characters drink coffee, talk about soup, clean the house, and prepare for a party. But the characters are what drive the piece, as well as Christopher Durangs’ frothy, quick script. 

We see Masha return home to see her siblings, after a busy time in New York being fabulous, although we quickly discover the real reason she is in town is to show her face at a ‘famous people only’ party and to assess their childhood home, which she bankrolls for her brother and sister. Masha, the successful actress sister, is played masterfully by Janie Dee, giving us desperation and insecurity below her glamour and command. Her brother and adopted sister, Vanya and Sonia, are found to be just existing at home, watching the garden for the heron each morning. 

While the cast had wonderful chemistry and pace together, individual moments from both Sonia and Vanya held those feelings of the heavy, slightly more painful nostalgia. Michael Maloney manoeuvred a delicate and repressed Vanya expertly into an explosive meltdown about simpler times of stamp licking and five TV channels. I felt so strongly for this sweet sad moment to which we can all relate, longing for a time where we didn’t have to multitask, but knowing that tomorrow we will submit once again to emails on our phones. Rebecca Lacey who serves us a neurotic and depressive Sonia ends up giving us hope for something more in her life in a sweet, perfectly played phone call. 

In supporting roles are Charlie Maher playing Spike, Lukwesa Mwamba playing the on-the-nose named Nina, and most notably Sara Powell, taking the role of the clairvoyant Cassandra. Her performance is bold and earthy and gives this eccentric character legs despite her barmy predictions. Both Maher and Mwamba bring a glorious enthusiasm and naivety to a house full of weather-beaten veteran characters.

These predictable, formulaic, archetypal characters do not in any way disappoint. It is a gentle character-driven romp, with a wickedly funny script and a comforting nostalgia that combines the best of American 80’s screen legends – think Roseanne and anything Ephron, with the classics of Chekhov and Coward. I found it almost to be one big in-joke. Quips about community theatre and ‘almost had them’ jobs, lines from Chekhov classics and old school Maggie Smith references. It played like a beautiful ode to Coward and Chekhov and us theatre folk. 

While the play does touch on heavier matters; climate change, the death of simplicity, even the meaning of life when there’s ‘nothing’ in it, it isn’t a piece to make you ponder, more a reminder to enjoy the mundane and the minutiae and embrace melodrama wherever possible. Durang may take inspiration from the Russian classics, but his characters are given a little more to hope for in comparison.

Review by Alex Wynter 

Rating: ★★★★

Price of Ticket: from £19.50


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