Tasting Notes - Southwark Playhouse
Perspective is everything
Tasting Notes relives the same 24 hours six times, each repeat shifting the point of view between the characters, highlighting how different people perceive the same situations. Charlie Ryall and Richard Baker cement their new musical in a wine bar, examining the lives of its staff and customers, yet despite being packed full of humour, charisma and a song about why cats are better than people, it doesn’t quite land, leaving a underwhelming aftertaste.
The reliving of a day from multiple perspectives is an engaging way to unravel the nuances of a story - moments that are glossed over initially suddenly become pivotal plot points later on, in often silky satisfying ways. Tasting Notes does this well throughout but as the musical progresses the plot does push its luck in terms of plausibility and therefore damages the realism it has built as a grounded production. Its charm and heart spur it forwards, however, comprised of elements that any past or present service/hospitality/retail worker with surely recognise. The found family at LJ’s delivers warmth, and a sense of belonging but asks whether those closest to us hear our daily struggles and whether we hear theirs.
Much of the spirit of this show is led by the strong ensemble who naturally embody the varied characters of LJ’s wine bar. There are some strong vocal performances and the cast’s voices nicely blend during group numbers, though the score never feels entirely conformable and complete. The melodies seem to limit performances rather than allowing vocals to thrive. In comparative, more established musicals, there are clever callbacks, themes, and motifs that linger in your ear long after the performance has finished but here Tasting Notes cannot quite deliver. Perhaps with slight tweaking and reworking, there is potential to get there but in its current form, it will not join those ranks.
Justin Williams has created a slick-looking brickwork bar that functions well but does risk taking up a little too much space on the already cramped stage. Musgrave’s lighting design works nicely with a ceiling awash with hanging bulbs but on occasion feels untidy and therefore some refinement would not go amiss. Shelley Williams’ direction is somewhat similar but I did enjoy the subtle changes in character and movement choices as the perspectives shifted.
Whilst this review risks sounding overly critical, it is worth iterating that there is serious potential in this production. The ideas feel equally fresh and familiar, the cast are superb and the story was enticing, packed with twists that audiences do not see coming. But it is as if we have only had the first sip of what this show could be. With a little more time and maybe a little aeration it would be fantastic to see this production grow and develop further instead of hanging up the apron when the run finishes.
It runs until 27 August - Tickets
Photos: Chris Marchant