Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike – Charing Cross Theatre Theatre
Premiered in 2012 and a Tony award winner in 2013, it seems extraordinary that, even allowing for Covid delay, it has taken so long for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike to reach London via a first outing in Bath in 2019.
Although characters and themes are lifted liberally and affectionately from Anton Chekhov, there are considerably more laughs to be had in Christopher Durang’s Bucks County, Pennsylvania setting. However an intimate knowledge of Chekhov (while providing an extra layer for aficionados) is not vital for audience enjoyment. Durang’s programme notes on his encounters with Chekhov also provide useful research or revision for anyone with time before the play starts.
David Korins’ substantial stone and timber set plants location solidly in Pennsylvania overlooking a lake where Vanya (Michael Maloney) and Sonia (Rebecca Lacey) spend hours looking over the lake and its visiting birds, as well as what Sonia likes to call a Cherry Orchard (even though it only has ten trees). Adrift fifteen years after the death of the father they previously cared for, their uneventful lives are interrupted by the arrival of their sister Masha (Janie Dee) who pays for the house and their lifestyle through the money she earns as a movie actress. The forebodings of housekeeper Cassandra (Sara Powell) are apparently well founded when it transpires Masha plans to sell the house. Bringing her toyboy Spike (Charlie Mayer) along for the ride, Masha persuades her siblings to join her at a costume party thrown by her PA. When Spike goes for a swim in the lake, he meets and invites young Nina (Lukwesa Mwamba) back to the house where Masha reluctantly agrees to take the starstruck youngster to the party too.
One of the joys of this production was that, apart from the many laugh out loud moments, it would take anyone with a heart of stone not to find themselves smiling for much of the play. In part this was also due to some outstanding performances. Janey Dee was brilliant as the preening, self-important but nonetheless fragile actress, conscious that she is not as young as she was. Rebecca Lacey had some fine comic moments in the frustrated pointlessness of a life without purpose but then revealed a terrific talent for mimicry in her assumption of Maggie Smith as her alter ego. Michael Maloney gave an understated performance with his wry observations and underlying kindness. This made all the more powerful his later explosion of anger and frustration at how the march of technology and time had destroyed the kinder sensibilities he recalled nostalgically from his youth.
Walter Bobbie’s direction ensured that action zipped along at a pace it might be wished productions of Chekhov’s plays followed. The comedy was well balanced by pathos. As with all good plays, the motivation of characters (even if at first sight not particularly likeable) was crystal clear and understandable. This was a play with heart – and comes highly recommended.
Review by Robin Kelly.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is paying at the Charing Cross Theatre until he 8th January. To find out more and to book tickets you can visit their website here.