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A CurtainUp London London Review

"Yesterday he didn't know Pinot Noir from Film Noir!" — Miles
Simon Harrison as Jack, Daniel Weyman as Miles (Photo: Pamela Raith)
It is probably unfair to compare Sideways the play with the hazy memories of a film I must have seen a decade ago. However, in some ways the play is a richer experience as the characters are more likable than their celluloid counterparts.

The premise is brilliant: Take two chaps, one just divorced and hoping to be published and the other on the brink of marriage for the first time. Give one some knowledge of wine and all the ghastly pretentious language that goes with it and the other a weaker and less cultured intellect, but a lot more money and libido. Send both on a road trip to explore wine.

The girls come off rather well in this play, apart that is from their romantic outcomes. Terra (Beth Cordingly), a spirited blonde, falls for Jackson (Simon Harrison) unaware that he is about to get married and this week long tour of the wineries of California is a week long stag night. But while Terra's main interest may be to get laid, she also has great knowledge of the pinot grape in its various fermentations. Her curious name has to be a pun on terroir.

Maya (Ellie Piercy) equals Terra's knowledge of viticulture and the spoils of her marriage are some rather fine orgasmic bottles of wine purloined from her ex husband's valuable cellar. It is these rare vintages which are used to bring Miles (Daniel Weyman) out of his shell as he shares a fine burgundy with Maya in an erotic way.

As a comedy Sideways is very much word driven with some explicit sexual and sexist language. The set is rather disappointing, with folding wooden or painted wood screens, like a fence at some points, on a double revolve used to change location. Nowhere is the glorious Californian scenery.

There is one satisfyingly choreographed moment from director David Grindley when the four spend a first evening tasting increasingly expensive wines. The wine tasting etiquette is perfect: the just-so pour from the waiter into fine glass, holding the glass up to the light, the swirl of the wine, the deep intake of breath for the nose and finally swishing it in the mouth and making appreciative noises.

The performances are ideal. Daniel Weyman as Miles copes with the double loss of his wife and his publisher. Terra and Jack growl at each other like a pair of rampant tigers.

Do either of the men learn to treat women better? No. The "happy" ending didn't do it for me and I kept remembering Elena Ferrante's comments about bad writing and neat, happy endings.

Sideways is full of superb one liners but in adapting his novel for the stage in California in 2012, Rex Pickett has been tempted to include all of his best jokes. The show comes in at two hours 45 minutes and much as I loved the palatable laughs, the long finish was not to my taste.

In conjunction with the play, and this is a rather fine idea, selected evenings will feature a tasting after the show for an all inclusive price of play plus tasting for £61. This could really catch on. Productions of Richard III with tastings of Malmsey, Black Watch with rare malt whiskies and The Ladykillers with afternoon tea.

Written by Rex Pickett
Directed by David Grindley
Starring: Daniel Weyman, Simon Harrison, Ellie Piercy, Beth Cordingly
With: Daniel Barry, Kirsten Hazel Smith, Anne Kavanagh
Design: Laura Hopkins
Lighting: Mark Howland
Sound: Fergus O'Hare
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7492 0810
Booking to 9th July 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 31st May 2016 performance at St James's Theatre, 12 Palace Street, London SW1E 5JA (Tube: Victoria)
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