Tasting Notes at Southwark Playhouse
Tasting Notes is a new British musical set in a wine bar. Keen to support new musical theatre I headed along to Southwark Playhouse to see if the show would be to my taste.
Tasting Notes tells the story of the same 24 hours in the lives of 6 individuals who either work in or visit LJ’s wine bar. The premise is clever and as the show goes on gaps within the 24 hours gradually get filled in until we are faced with a shocking revelation in the last employee’s turn. However the format of the show inevitably leads to a lot of repetition, even down to the same dialogue being delivered on occasions. At times this is entertaining as it enables you to see the same conversation through different eyes , depicting how much of what we were shown the first (or second) time round was just what that character wanted us to see however it did become a bit tiresome and meant overall the running time of the show was significantly longer than it needed to have been.
The other disadvantage of the structure of the show is that there were some characters that you spent a while getting to know, for them then just to feature as passing mentions in everyone else’s 24 hours. The owner of the bar, LJ was the perfect example of this. Her 24 hours was told first and we were shown a warm hearted boss who slept at work and cared for her staff and customers however she barely featured in anyone else’s 24 hours so you wondered why so much work had been put into building up her character.
The cast all play their parts well. The aforementioned LJ is played by Nancy Zamit who is instantly likeable. We meet Maggie who is played by Charlie Ryall and in her 24 hours, besides from her shift’s at LJ’s she attends an audition providing some humour for the stagey audience that were in during press night. We meet Eszter played by Wendy Morgan is a Hungarian who struggles with English and worries for her adult son and Sam Kipling who plays George who lights up the stage but struggles to have any real depth to the character. Stephen Hoo plays Joe, a regular customer to the bar and whilst we find out some back story for him this leaves more questions than it gives answers. Finally Niall Ransome is Oliver, an employee obsessed over his cat who does manage to inject comedy into the show brilliantly.
The show was often unsure as to what it was trying to be. There were moments of gold, witty satire about the life of working in a wine bar (ice in a Merlot anyone?) and in particular Maggie’s commentary on being told to smile by a customer and her subsequent number was the perfect example of this. Equally there were funny moments about a micro pig and a number dedicated to how cats are better than people. However there were darker moments and the opening and closing 24 hours depicted in particular were in stark contrast to the rest of the show which made it hard for the audience to find their feet.
Musically I also struggled with this show, whilst all of the music was pleasant there were no numbers that I left humming and none of the numbers gave me ‘that’ moment you often want from a musical, especially considering some of the revelations within the script. Much of the music felt as if was commenting on the action rather than driving it forward, this wouldn’t have been a problem had it not been for the amount of repetition already in the show.
Overall Tasting Notes is a clever concept that needs some large tweaks to avoid the repetition getting monotonous and to allow the characters to develop. Alter some of the songs to make them more memorable and drive the plot more and you could have an interesting new musical on your hands.
Tasting Notes is on at Southwark Playhouse until 27th August. You can find out more about the show and buy tickets on their website.