The London premiere of this Tony Award winning play features a strong cast – yet somehow feels a little bit flat.
When done really well, comedy can really prove to be a great way to explore issues such as the ones raised in Christopher Durang’s Tony Award winning play – questions of ageing, regrets and reflections on life are all highlighted but somehow don’t feel as though they are explored in as much depth as it could do.
Filled with references to Chekhov, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike concentrates on the lives of three siblings whose lives are quite different. On the one hand you have Vanya and Sonia who live in Pennsylvania farmhouse where they grew up and helped care for their parents, then there is Masha who is a glamorous movie star who turns up unexpectedly with her toy-boy Spike. From here on in old rivalries and regrets emerge through barbed comments directed at each other.
While Durang’s script has plenty of potential for laughs – it feels as though some of them fall flat, particularly when Sonia and Masha start arguing and it can be a bit frustrating in places. This being said, the play feels stronger in the second act when the characters look back and share their regrets that life is not quite what they expected it to be. It can be seen in moments such as when Masha (played with a wonderful diva style by Janie Dee) realises that not even with all the money that she has it can’t slow down time – in particular in the wake of a revelation towards the end – showing the characters when they are vulnerable really works in the play’s favour.
it could also be said that in terms of the direction the play takes, it comes across as though it meanders without much purpose – the first act is all about the costume party they are all planning on attending (leading to arguments about costumes) but then the second act doesn’t mention the party at all – leaving the audience wondering what happened.
However, Walter Bobbie’s production really makes the most of the excellent cast. Janie Dee’s wonderfully arrogant (yet somehow still likeable) Masha is a real joy to watch, Michael Maloney’s understated performance as Vanya is delightful, Rebecca Lacey’s sharp performance as Sonia gives bite to many of the jokes, Lukwesa Mwamba is filled with charm as Nina and Charlie Maher as Spike gives a wonderfully goofy performance. But for me Sara Powell as Cassandra who makes all kinds of predictions about what is about to happen, while trying to fit them in with Geek mythology gives a wonderfully flamboyant and energetic performance – a real treat.
Elsewhere, I also loved the compact but detailed nature of the set design by David Korins which gives a real sense of how trapped in their lives the characters feel, enhancing that feeling of tension.
As a play, it feels as though it needs more work to make the comedy land better but this production and cast ensures that the audience is still drawn in enough to these characters lives to see how the play concludes.
By Emma Clarendon
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike continues to play at the Charing Cross Theatre until the 8th January 2022.