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Tasting Notes at Southwark Playhouse

Tasting Notes. Sam Kipling and Wendy Morgan. Photo Chris Marchant.
Tasting Notes. Sam Kipling and Wendy Morgan. Photo Chris Marchant.

The plotline in Tasting Notes is not without holes. Not satisfied with one critical incident that has a significant impact on one or more of its characters, there are several. A lot is packed into a twenty-four-hour period in a production that is meant to portray a day in the lives of its six characters. But what goes on becomes increasingly implausible that your reviewer started to wonder if this was a piece of absurdist theatre.

The storyline circles back repeatedly over the same twenty-four hours, albeit from a different character’s perspective each time, which invariably leads to a lot of unnecessary repetition. Granted, this narrative device stands out from the more conventional use of flashback scenes, but it still feels like sitting through a trilogy twice over. For someone to have a glass of wine, for instance, effectively means to have six. No complaints from me on that front, but when someone kicks the bucket, that person has more resurrections than the daughter of Jairus, Lazarus of Bethany and Jesus of Nazareth put together.

The musical is not without stereotypes, such as Joe (Stephen Hoo) who goes to the wine bar in which the show is set every day before eventually being asked to vacate the premises, and George (Sam Kipling), whimsical and camp, with an involuntary reflex that comprises striking a pose even when playing matchmaker for others or serving a customer at the bar. I couldn’t work out for the life of me quite why Kipling’s George finds himself singing an entire number in a falsetto voice. When Jimmy Somerville does it, it’s soulful – here, I regret to report I found it jarring, not least because I couldn’t work out what on earth was being sung.

LJ (Nancy Zamit) runs the wine bar – I take it from the staff uniforms that the establishment is called LJ’s, and it would appear the audience is left to decide for themselves whether that’s unimaginative, narcissistic or both. Either way, the production portrays the manager in a sympathetic light, the sort of local business owner who knows her customer base well enough to pop out to check on the wellbeing of a regular who doesn’t show up at their usual time but gave no indication of going on holiday or being away on business.

Eszter (Wendy Morgan), the bar’s chef de partie, probably has the most interesting perspective: being a woman from Hungary with conversant but not fluent English, her conversations with her grown-up son in her native language cannot be understood by other staff, but are later translated, together with her innermost thoughts. The asides in programmes like Miranda and Fleabag come to mind, and greater use could have been made of direct addresses to the audience throughout the performance.

There is also Maggie (Charlie Ryall), an actor whose audition for a role doesn’t go well – the show provides sheds some intriguing light on how one’s personal circumstances are still sometimes questioned at audition in an unnecessarily intrusive and morally dubious manner. Oliver (Niall Ransome) loves the company of his cats so much more than the company of other people that he gets an entire musical number underlining that personal preference, in a show that is already overly repetitive.

It would be too harsh to deem an off-stage car crash to be a metaphor for the show as a whole – there were some punchlines decent enough to elicit hearty laughter from the audience, and the various narrative dots are joined together by the curtain call. It’s an ambitious production in some ways, but it could do with some trimming: the “blah, blah, blah” truncations of dialogue when the story is retold from George’s perspective, ostensibly because he’s too self-absorbed to listen to anyone else for very long, is a step in the right direction. At least the cast appear to be enjoying themselves, which rubs off on the audience’s responses to the performance.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

During a seemingly normal 24 hours, ‘Tasting Notes’ dips into the life of a wine bar; the people who serve, the people who drink and the people we meet on our way to wherever we’re going…

Cast:
Stephen Hoo
Sam Kipling
Wendy Morgan
Niall Ransome
Charlie Ryall
Nancy Zamit

Creative team:
Music & Lyrics Richard Baker
Book & Lyrics Charlie Ryall
Director Shelley Williams
Musical Director Richard Baker
Set Design Justin Williams
Lighting Design Alex Musgrave
Production Manager Laurel Marks
Artwork DeskTidy
Produced by Caroheda Productions Ltd
Caroheda Productions Ltd presents

Tasting Notes
Music & Lyrics Richard Baker
Book & Lyrics Charlie Ryall
Directed by Shelley Williams

Southwark Playhouse
77-85 Newington Causeway,
London SE1 6BD
https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

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