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  • Writer's pictureSarah

Tasting Notes a review of the new musical with legs on at the Southwark Playhouse

A drama set in a bar, it's been done before, but never quite like this. The structure is very original indeed. Written by Charlie Ryall (who plays Maggie) with music by Richard Baker, the musical is set in LJs wine bar and tells the story of 24 hours in the lives of the staff, customers and other characters.

LJs bar - the set before the performance
LJs bar - the set before the performance

LJ, played by Nancy Zamit, equates her bar to home. Somewhat of a mother figure, she looks after her staff and customers better than she does herself. The bar being her 'home' is a little too literal when she's sleeping there as yet another member of staff either has a crisis and can't work, or casually just doesn't turn up for their shift at all.

We see the scene play out, and then it's rewound and retold from each characters perspective with just a bit more story added each time. There are six main characters; in additional to LJ, there's Maggie an out-of-work actress, George (Sam Kipling) a shallow young gay man who gets hate-crimed outside a club (Heaven?), Oliver is a guy who likes cats more than people and who can't see Maggie's liking for him (Niall Ransome), a Hungarian chef with limited English and a problematic son (Wendy Morgan), and Joe the local drunk (Stephen Hoo) are the protagonists of this tale.

Man in pink floral shirt leans against bar wall - character of George  played by Sam Kipling.  Photo credit Chris Marchant
George played by Sam Kipling. Photo credit Chris Marchant

The idea is that we never know what's really going on for other people, that all we see are the 'Tasting Notes'. Whereas they are actually all the leading character in their story, and others are the supports. e.g. George hears a blah blah blah whenever he's not the centre of attention.

Demanding and difficult customers also make an appearance; the customer who wants an ice cube in their Shiraz, the ones who doesn't think women can know anything about wine, and of course bar-fly Joe who really doesn't want to go home.

Maggie and Oliver share a glass of champagne standing behind the bar.   Photo credit Chris Marchant
Maggie and Oliver share a glass. Photo credit Chris Marchant

Sometimes, the highlight of the evening is the staff having a glass before heading home, and we realise that they have become a 'work family'. Both as supportive and dysfunctional as real families - as we see with Eszter and her son.

Seeing the scene re-wound could have been boring, but each take was fresh, and the audience laughed out loud on numerous occasions.

The musical takes a dark turn towards the end, there's a shocking and unexpected twist which I hadn't seen coming, and I felt that it was a little out of place.

There's a small live band accompanying the actors, and the actors sing and dance admirably. With Smile being the stand out song of the evening for me (How many women have been told, "You'd be really pretty if only you smiled"?)

The musical is engaging, fresh and fun, and entirely relatable to anyone who's ever worked in hospitality.

When: Now playing until 27th August 2022

Start Time: 8pm

Matinee Starts: 3.30pm

Running Time: 140 mins including interval

Price: £24 | £20 concessions

Captioned performances Saturday 6th August 3.30pm and 8pm

Audio described performances Friday 12th August 8pm and Saturday 13th August 3.30pm

Address: 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD

Nearest tubes: Elephant and Castle or Borough

Phone: 020 7407 0234


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