Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang. Charing Cross Theatre, Villiers Street, London WC2. to 8 January 2022. 4****. William Russell

Awards are funny things and if this was the best play of 2013 in New York one does wonder what the others were like – it won the Tony and pretty well everything else going. Durang has a long standing obsession it seems with Chekhov and this is the result, although odd moments apart – notably the opening conversation between Vanya (Michael Moloney) and his adopted sister Sonia (Rebecca Lacey) – it is more of a farce with stand up turns for everyone involved than like anything Chekhov ever wrote.
It is, however, very funny, has some inspired rants – one wonders why Michael Maloney is there doing not very much as Vanya, who is gay, until he gets his rant about how life in the 50s was about people aimed at the toy boy Spike in the second half and one sees why.
Vanya and Sonia live in the family home which owned by their sister Masha (Janie Dee), a famous film star on the slide played to the hilt by Dee, who is a marvellous comedienne, channeling Lauren Bacall. Masha is planning to sell it as the roles are not coming as fast as they once did and the money is less than it was. The siblings have no jobs, had looked after their mother until she died, and are your typical Chekhov parasites tied to a location.
Masha turns up with her lover Spike (Charlie Maher), a muscle bound youth who thinks he is an actor, and they are all made to attend a fancy dress party nearby for which she has brought the costumes. She goes as Snow White, Spike is Prince Charming, Vanya gets to go as one of the seven dwarfs and Sonia as the wicked queen. For reasons that are not at all clear Sonia does a series of stunning turns as Maggie Smith in California Suite, Spike keeps stripping off, for which Maher has all the equipment needed and Masha, while admired as a star by the guests, is appalled to find that nobody has heard of Snowwhite. Dee is simply delicious throughout.
The set piece speeches are a beautifully crafter, the cast is as good as could be, but the play, while the jokes crackle away, adds up to a lout of sound and fury at the injustices of life but not very much else. These are just not real people. Nina (Lukwesa Mwamba doing the Chekhov virgin with dreams role perfectly as a teenager next door who wants to be an actress and is in thrall to Masha, and Cassandra (Sara Powell) the family’s cleaner who is psychic and forecasts doom and gloom every time she erupts on the scene and you have all the ingredients for a theatrical fruit cake if not for a great play.
The production directed with the right speed and invention by Walter Bobbie should have opened last year but fell victim to the pandemic. That it has survived is welcome because it really does cheer one up – something Chekhov seldom does. Wisely the theatre has abandoned its in the round format and reinstated the stage. This means we get to look at the goings on without all the damage having to play to an audience all round them can inflict on actors’ performances. Everything is audible, and there are no views of backs for minutes on end. One to check into really as you don’t need to know anything about Chekhov to get the jokes.

Masha: Janie Dee.
Vanya: Michael Moloney.
Sonia: Reebecca Lacey.
Spike: Charlie Maher.
Nina: Lukwesa Mwamba.
Cassandra: Sara Powell.

Director: Walter Robbie.
Set Designer: David Korins.
Costume Designer: Emily Rebholz.
Lighting Designer: Justin Townsend.
Original Music & Sound Design: Mark Bennett.
Production Photographs: Marc Brenner.

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