THE WHISKY TASTER
by James Graham.
Bush Theatre Shepherd’s Bush Green W12 8QD To 20 February 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 2 Feb.
Captioned 3 Feb.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8743 5050.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 January.
Play taken neat is too neat.
No wonder Nicola wears muted colours. She’s part of an advertising ‘dream-team’ with Barney, who experiences everything as colours. It’s the secret of his success, creating instant branding.
Then they bring a Scottish whisky taster to their smartly minimal London office, hoping his palate and vocabulary of whisky flavours will provide a marketing quick-fix for a stylish new vodka they’re seeking to promote. But he’s having none of it. Malts take years to acquire their flavour and their language is not to be stolen for instant copy and hype.
Nicola, urban rather than urbane, with a career in a hurry, expands into colours as she becomes more annoyed with the Taster’s reticence. While Barney, besotted as he is with Nicola, takes the malt-man’s point.
Playwright James Graham has built successful plays from the lives of British politicians. With this play and last year’s A History of Falling Things he turns to young men with very particular conditions. But whereas Falling Things matched its hero and his fears with a young woman incapable of leaving her room, Nicola here is rapid-fire nervy aggression, impatient with obstructions.
Kate O’Flynn gives her wilfulness full reign, with an assertiveness that could in time ossify into the mannerisms and anger against the young which Simon Merrills comically highlights in her manager. Merrills is offset by Chris Larkin’s vodka-manufacturing client, first impressed then puzzled when Barney’s initial promise becomes inability to speak ad-lang.
John Stahl is granite as Aberdeen in upholding slower values. But the key performance in James Grieve’s smart production is Samuel Barnett’s Barney, capturing in depth both fondness for Nicola and his new sense of values as the neon tubes light-up in a full-colour pattern reflecting Barney’s love of the London Underground map.
Yet clever as it is, the piece never shakes off the sense of being a playwright’s conscious construct. It’s well-written but, despite the subject, too neat. And not helped by the Taster’s sample malts; OK in themselves, they hardly suggest the connoisseur. Maybe if he’d arrived with, say, Benrinnes, Bladnoch and Bunnahabhain. Or the bottled perfection of 21-year old Springbank.
Barney: Samuel Barnett.
Christopher: Chris Larkin.
Malcolm: Simon Merrills.
Nicola: Kate O’Flynn.
The Whisky Taster: John Stahl.
(Voice of) Scott: Rafe Spall.
Director: James Grieve.
Designers/Lighting: Lucy Osborne, James Farncombe.
Sound: Emma Laxton.
Assistant director: Ant Stone.