Sideways – The Play.
Sideways, the movie based on Rex Pickett’s novel, was a huge hit in 2004, and impacted California’s wine business, lifting sales of Pinot Noir from 1% of red wines to nearly 8% while causing Merlot’s share decline from 20% of the U.S market to 7%.
Also, the Santa Ynez wine region north of Los Angeles went from a quiet backwater to see an influx of wine tourism that continues to this day. Steve Fennell, winemaker at Sanford Winery located western end of the Santa Ynez Valley, reckons “Sideways will be mentioned between five and ten times a week”. You can book winery tours visiting wineries seen in the movie ending with dinner at the featured Hitching Post restaurant.
But the original author says “I saw little of the spoils. Rex Pickett says the movie “pushed me, and the novel I had suffered to write, to the periphery in a way only Hollywood can do.”
By writing a play he could retell the story and “make a pure distillation of my novel”.
But could what was, at heart, a road movie make great theatre? As James Albrecht, creative director at St James Theatre, said: “Cars don’t work on stage.”
After two sell out runs in California, Sideways the play made its European premiere at London’s St James theatre last month.
The modern theatre with steeply raked seating, makes an intimate home to the play which, without cars and acres of vineyards, focuses tightly on the players and their interaction. Daniel Weyman as Miles and Simon Harrison as Jack make the parts so completely theirs that within minutes you’ve forgotten that anyone else every played them.
Ellie Piercy is a tender Maya and Beth Cordingly a vivacious flirtatious Terra.
Miles is divorced and waiting to hear from his agent whether his novel has been accepted by the 60th publisher approached. Jack is an impecunious voice-over actor about to get married to a well-off woman. Miles, who is a wine geek and Pinot lover, takes Jack in the week before his wedding to taste Pinot in the Santa Ynez valley. Jack knows nothing of wine; his focus is on having as much sex as he can before he ties the knot. Jack’s flirting pays off and soon it seems both men have found true love, but in vino veritas and hearts and bodies are broken.
There is plenty of wine talk at a geeky level, numerous bottles are opened and copious glasses swigged of juice which cannot be alcoholic.
Without panoramic vineyard scenes the play is focused and fast with a simple set that turns to make restaurants out of bedrooms and tasting rooms from toilets.
Kirsten Hazel Smith has fun with accents by playing four different women and Daniel Barry makes all the other male parts including bareing all for his craft. Anne Kavanagh plays both Mile’s mother and his agent.
But there’s another star on the stage and that’s Miles great love: Pinot Noir.
On stage they may not be drinking real wine, but the audience can ashe theatre bar stocks Sanford Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Santa Ynez, or for those unconvinced by Miles, a Napa Valley Merlot.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.
Disclosure: Peter May paid for theatre and travel.