Released as both a ﬁlm and a novel in 2004, Sideways achieved success winning an Academy Award and producing a large number of sales respectively. However, despite being based around a much-loved subject of mine, wine, it seems Rex Pickett and David Grindley’s stage production needs some serious ripening if it wants to achieve the same amount of respect.
Set in the Santa Barbara wine country, best friends Miles (Daniel Weyman) and Jack (Simon Harrison) set out for a week of wine-tasting whilst sorting out their mid-life crises with romance and work. However, whilst away they meet fellow wine lovers Maya (Ellie Piercy) and Terra (Beth Cordingly), and they realise just how intoxicating a good ol’ glass of Pinot Noir might be, as well as the consequences it can have on all of them.
Whilst I’ve only heard of ‘Pinot Noir’ being sung away by the legendary Titus on Netﬂix’s The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, unfortunately Sideways lacks any sort of his likability or charisma. Granted I have never seen the ﬁlm nor read the novel, Pickett’s dire script makes this road trip much longer than it should be. In fact, Grindley’s production is half an hour longer than the 2 hour 8 minute ﬁlm. This is very questionable considering at how bitty the scene order is, with little development in each due to the small length of each scene, lacking any sense of ﬂow throughout. Pickett’s script makes this worse throughout, full with a mix of crude jokes from Jack and arduous, pretentious monologues from Miles. Whilst this may be suited to his character, half an hour of this production could have easily been cut with the amount of pointless detail he gives to each wine.
What also becomes exposed in Grindley’s production is how cinematic the story is. Despite being a road movie, it’s a real disappointment at the lack of effort Laura Hopkins puts into the design. Simply put — two wooden boards and a plain blue backdrop. For a production based on a road movie and with such detailed descriptions of Santa Barbara and its picturesque scenery, the lack of scenery remains the most questionable aspect of this.
Having said that, the female lovers are the catalysts and produce the most ﬁery of performances out of the cast, with Ellie Piercy in particular providing a much-needed naturalism and charm in her vocal tone and friendly stage presence. Nonetheless, even with her performance you should have a couple of glasses of Pinot to help you through this. For audiences who know the story, it may prove nostalgic. However, for others who have not seen the ﬁlm nor read the novel, like myself, the script and plot seems incredibly clichéd, predictable, and with a lack of visual intent, you wonder what the logic was in turning this into a stage production.
Reviewed by Barry O’Reilly
Photo: Alastair Muir
SIDEWAYS plays at the St James Theatre until 9 July 2016