Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Reviewer's rating

This play won multiple awards in 2013. But as the person I was sat next to asked at the end “Was there nothing else on that year?”. This is an incredibly frothy, light play that seems to think it is more than the sum of its parts. The action never really goes anywhere, the characters develop no real depths.

Set in New England with characters named after Chekov greats (I think you may have to have a greater depth of knowledge of Chekov to understand each character and the irony of their name than I do. I don’t think would change my relationship to this play significantly to do so). I believe these annoying and unlovable WASPs are the product of community theatre loving professors. I am struggling to know why I should care about them and their empty lives.

A number of themes are picked up throughout the play, but then discarded carelessly. The toil of caring for parents with Alzheimer’s, the indignity of growing old in the public eye, the lonliness of never achieving a life, the veneration of youth and beauty. All are flirted with as notions, but the play has little to really expand on. These things exist. They happen but they are ephemeral.

I have a personal bugbear about the use of adoption as a trope in drama. As the sister of an adopted brother, the way Sonia’s adoption was treated as a way to differentiate her from her siblings – up to and including an apparent sexual crush on her gay brother Vanya – was explained purely on the strength of the fact she was adopted. No further explanation was felt required. I remember watching the Eastenders adoption/incest storyline with my brother (who happens to be adopted). The pair of us watched in horror and revulsion. But even Eastenders managed more depth of exploration than this play did. There is nothing that should be off the table when it comes to drama. Adoption and its complexities can and has been covered sensitively and well. Here it just felt like a shortcut to explain a character’s emotional state that was unearned.

The peak of the play was an exceptionally long, repetitive nostalgic rant by Vanya about how much better things used to be. Prompted by Spike texting while he was trying to stage a reading of his own play, this diatribe was long on passion and verve, but, coming as it did from nowhere, had little connection to the rest of the play and didn’t really seem embued with much meaning.

The play was performed in a very heightened and mannered way. In some ways this refelected the theme of the writing and the silly, New England lives the characters led, so I can understand this dramatic choice. But it distanced me further still from the unlikable and unrelatable people I was spending two hours of my life watching.

All in all, while there are a few laughs along the way, I found this play unmoving and uninspiring