Review – 4****Tasting Notes: Southwark Playhouse

Think of the sitcom ‘Cheers’ set to music; and then imagine we could see inside the minds of weird and wonderful characters that inhabit a wine bar called ‘LJ’s’. The result is this new musical bursting with potential.

There is a world of difference between what we think and say. Our deepest thoughts will stay hidden and bear little resemblance to our actions. The ability to read minds is a super power many people dream about. Personally, I’d rather not know as it would create more problems than it solved. But what if we could see inside people’s heads the absolute truth would become a powerful weapon. That is the premise for this intriguing new musical by Richard Baker and Charlie Ryall.

The action revolves around a wine bar run by LJ (Nancy Zamit) who eats, sleeps and breathes the bar. She is surrounded by an emotional ragbag of characters that represent her staff and extended family. There is Maggie (Charlie Ryall) a struggling actress who is madly in love with Oliver (Neil Ransome). He wants to reciprocate but just can’t find the words. George (Sam Kipling) is a flamboyant night child searching for the ‘one’ while Eszter (Wendy Morgan) has a needy son in tow. The circle is completed by regular customer Joe (Stephen Hoo) who has a secret.

The same 24 hour period is featured and periodically re-sets to tell the story from a different perspective. Each character expresses their thoughts with complete candour which is then set against how they actually react. The Groundhog Day scenario is never predictable because the story continually presents you with a fresh new angle. The songs are pleasant but not vital to the narrative; this is very much a play with songs as opposed to a standard musical. Whilst there is a smattering of funny lines, it explores some dark themes and delivers a smart twist as the story reaches its climax.

A simple brick based bar occupies the centre of the set while a three piece band sits discreetly at the back. The cast are excellent and combine perfectly in a series of well executed set pieces. The songs almost feel superfluous within a storyline that powers ahead and leaves them behind. Tasting Notes will undoubtedly find a receptive audience on a bigger stage, but also shows potential and creativity that is a rare commodity in modern theatre.

Music & Lyrics: Richard Baker

Book & Lyrics: Charlie Ryall

Director: Shelley Williams

Producer: Caroheda Productions Ltd

Review by Brian Penn

Published by Playhouse Pickings

Theatre blog run by Rhiannon; a civil servant, D&D player, sci fi fan, immersive theatre lover and gin enthusiast

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