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Sideways (St James Theatre)

Rex Pickett adapts his novel which follows two men on a journey into the heart of the Californian wine country

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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When Rex Pickett's 2004 film Sideways came out, sales of Pinot Noir - a grape California has become synonymous with - soared in America. I'm not sure his new play version, receiving its European premiere here, will have quite the same effect: us Brits are surely still too obsessed with our French and Spanish plonk. But one thing Sideways will do is make you exceptionally thirsty. The sheer number of bottles drunk on stage is enough to provoke a distinct urge to wet your whistle.

For those who don't know the film (which was adapted from Pickett's original book), Sideways is a road trip story around the vineyards of California. Slow-witted actor Jack has persuaded his wine-loving best friend Miles to take him on a week's pre-wedding blow out. Struggling novelist Miles has a penchant for long words and a tendency for depression. He begins the week buoyed by the fact that a publisher has expressed an interest in his novel - after 66 rejections - and takes his unlikely buddy - they couldn't be more different - round all his favourite haunts. It turns out, however, that Jack's interest isn't in the excellent wine, it's in the excellent ladies. When the two of them meet two charming wine-quaffing women, Jack's work to ensure he gets laid before he ties the knot gets them both into trouble.

Ultimately, Sideways is a love story cushioned in the heady aroma of some really good booze. It's about passion - Miles' passion for good wine is infectious and it unites him and local waitress Maya, whose own past heartache prompted her love for the bottle. Sideways is also very much about a bromance, and although Maya and her friend - the oddly named Terra - aren't badly written characters, Jack's and, at times Miles', fairly awful treatment of them is slightly hard to stomach.

But we occasionally dig a bit of boys behaving badly, and it's really hard not to like Sideways. Pickett's snappy, perky dialogue is very funny and his portrait of the lonely, lost Miles is drawn very well. If you've seen the film, you know the play - it doesn't swerve much from the original. But it's not a drag watching it. In fact, Pickett has adapted this for the stage with nous and I'd say it's worth revisiting.

The cast are uniformly excellent, led by a great Daniel Weyman who plays the likeable but exasperating Miles. He is a classic tortured soul, driven by his need to write but slowly battered by his failures. Weyman plays him lightly, and with a sense of irony: as if Miles knows he is slightly ridiculous, but just cannot help it. Weyman can turn on the humour and the pathos beautifully. Simon Harrison is less of a moron than his counterpart in the film, and really pushes the whole alpha male thing, while Ellie Piercy's Maya is soulful, hardened by life, but with a soft centre. Beth Cordingly as Terra is fearsome and hilarious.

David Grindley's direction manages to keep the show - which moves a lot from place to place - right on the road. It's pacey and upbeat, and although there was a bit of struggling with Laura Hopkins' slightly cumbersome mini revolve sets on the night I saw it, the designs are versatile and compact. They do a good job of moving the characters all about the place.

Sideways is a coming of age tale about adults who really should know better. But it's ultimately touching in the way it reminds us that it's easy to get lost on life's path and that really loving someone can help you find your way. Loving someone, yes, that as well as a lot of truly delicious vino.

Sideways - The Play runs at the St James Theatre until 9 July.

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