There’s a lot to like in Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, mainly the performances, which are energetic and solid. However, even with great one-liners, it felt slightly dated. Was I watching a farce, something camp or a bit of a pantomime? I plumped for a mixture, writes Susan Hallissey.
Vanya and Sonia are the gay brother and adopted unmarried sister who have stayed at home in Pennsylvania to look after their now-deceased parents. They are in a ‘life is over’ rut and in the first scene are at pains to let us know their history and that they and sister Masha are named after Chekov characters.
When Masha, the glamorous star, arrives with her toy boy Spike, recriminations begin. Cassandra the cleaner, played by Sara Powell, foresees all of this in one of her many premonitions as she adapts Greek tragedy to fit immediate issues, most notably Masha selling the family home.
Masha (Janie Dee), wisecracking and beautiful, swans around the stage addressing her stepsister as ‘darling, sensitive, tedious Sonia.’ Her insecurities brought to the fore with the worry of ageing and losing her amour, Spike, played by the lusty Charlie Maher. Spike’s penchant for taking his clothes off not going unnoticed by the shy Vanya.
Demanding her siblings play dwarves to her ‘Snow White’ for a neighbour’s fancy dress party, Masha is stunned when Sonia rebels, going as Maggie Smith from ‘California Suite’. Vanya, however, is more compliant.
A terrible evening ensues for Masha where she has been mistaken for Gloria Swanson and further doubts arise when Spike drops the young attractive local, Nina, home.
Sonia’s after-party meltdown regarding the past, and Snow White’s comical reaction of not giving a damn by sliding into a heap onto the floor from her chair, was something I’ve only dreamt of doing.
The second act sees an emotive monologue from Sonia that is played beautifully by Rebecca Lacey when she receives an unexpected phone call.
Vanya (Michael Maloney), flips and has a powerful meltdown monologue of his own, after sharing his play with the family.
Alzheimer’s, sexuality, jealousy, missed opportunities, and lost love, are just some of the themes that rear up throughout Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.
Well acted and entertaining, this piece needs something to lift it further and I don’t think it’s Chekov.
Charing Cross Theatre, The Arches, Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NL until January 8th. Times: Mon-Sat 7.30pm; Wed & Sat matinees 2.30pm. Admission: £19.50 – £39.50.
Booking: www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk – 08444 930650