Southwark Playhouse is renowned for its small musicals with big ambitions. Tasting Notes takes place in a wine bar run by a reckless entrepreneur, LJ, whose business bears her name. In real life, LJ’s bar would go bankrupt within weeks. It serves vintage wines to a clientele of wealthy drinkers who swallow large tureens of Malbec and Bordeaux but eat nothing. Staff help themselves to free Champers and Burgundy whenever they want, and the boss bustles about like a mother hen to make sure his offspring are safe and satisfied. Bad punctuality is never penalized and staff improvise each shift as it goes. But LJ’s emotional vibe feels right. It’s a surrogate family for the wanderers and dreamers who work there, and guests are treated like pals rather than clients. When a friendly alcoholic, Joe, doesn’t arrive for his evening bottle of grog, the staff rushes to his apartment. Joe is found dead by his own hand. Or was it foul play?
The music, by Richard Baker, successfully meets the modest standards it imposes on itself. The multi-layered script is the star of this show. The incidents are small but packed with tension and dramatic potential, and the focus keeps returning to the same short scenes and investigating them from different angles. Gradually, the truth about Joe’s death emerges. It keeps you on the edge of your seat.
The love interest comes from two shy employees, Oliver and Maggie, who are perfect for each other, but neither has the guts to make the first move. George (Sam Kipling) plays matchmaker for the shrinking violets, but they ignore his efforts. Both seem destined to die single but they finally manage to break the ice. Not all of the cast members are world-class singers, but the level of acting is excellent throughout. Nancy Zamit does a great comedic turn as the sweet, vulnerable, and insane LJ. Stephen Hoo (Joe) is an excellent performer with a leading man look and a haunting voice.
We by David Persiva is a romantic comedy that plays with its internal chronology. The show looks at the first half hour and last half hour of a relationship and deliberately tells the story out of order. Very early on, the couple exchange romantic anecdotes and the young girl evokes a one-night stand that unexpectedly turned into a threesome. His date left the room and invited his roommate to join him. She was not consulted about this arrangement, but she agreed to it anyway. Why? “Sometimes it’s easier,” she admits.
A more angry playwright would have turned this incident into a heartbreaking drama about consent and the evil patriarchy. But this subtle, delicate comedy wants to explore the intricacies of real-life romance as it unfolds. There is a documentary side. It is only in the last moments that we learn of the accident which brought the couple together in a storage room during a social event. Any chance interruption or nervous breakdown on either side could have ruined the moment and ended the affair before it started.
Storm at the Globe, directed by Sean Holmes, has been widely criticized for its cheeky and indulgent design. The characters are at a poolside get-together in formal attire, and the opening scene shows us booze on an ocean liner as it sails through a tropical storm. “We part, we part!” shout the terrified characters. And yet, even after being shipwrecked, they keep their party hats on. This celebratory gesture goes against the script which insists that Mother Nature is a savage and murderous force.
No matter. Each costume works on its own terms. Nadi Kemp-Sayfi (Miranda) wears a tight red miniskirt that shows off her long, shapely legs and makes her look like a conjurer’s assistant about to be sawed in half in a 1970s TV show. A hole appears into the scene and an actor appears dressed in a sleek gray suit like a real estate agent. It is in fact Olivier Huband who embodies Ferdinand with great ease and charm. He is an excellent speaker of the verse too.
Ferdy Roberts is a strangely angry Prospero. Rather than giving us the usual portrayal of a cuddly old fruit, it focuses on the magician’s angry wickedness and love of revenge. And, perhaps recklessly, Roberts decided to appear with his tanned body completely naked except for a tiny pair of speedos as yellow as ripe bananas.
Despite the offbeat visuals, the show works beautifully. There is a huge sense of fun and informality on stage and the actors throw in unShakespearian phrases like “bloody hell” or “Jesus Christ”. The crowd went wild as the actors shouted profanity at the annoying jets flying overhead. Heckling Ryanair should be part of every Globe production.