Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Whisky Taster by James Graham, Bush Theatre, 20-Jan-2010 – Directed by James Grieve

Barney (Samuel Barnett) is an advertising account executive who lives a quiet life, fearing the colours and the sensations that are set off by his synaesthesia and unable to express or acknowledge his love for his colleague and work partner Nicola (Kate O'Flynn). His inability to face his condition is depicted on stage by all but one of the characters, in the first half, wearing shades of grey. The only exception is John Stahl's Whisky Taster, brought in to pass judgement on a new brand of vodka and fill the account team with buzz words and other ideas. The Whisky Taster's character is an uncomfortable mix of wide knowledge of the world (particularly its culture) and unworldliness (not happy about leaving Scotland and unfamiliar with music videos on TV) and his kilt contains the first strong (and painful to Barney) colours we see. It is this character who in a strong scene on the making and tasting of whisky, awakes Barney to all the sensations that he has avoided – brightly coloured neon tubes crackling into life as he allows himself to be drawn into the feelings.
I usually associate Samuel Barnett with fey almost camp roles so it was good to see him doing something different. He grew impressively from a timid and shy young man to someone wanting to fill his life with more than vapid advertising and weak instant coffee.
I wasn't entirely convinced by the advertising world they showed – it was too full of jargon phrases and samey characters for me – although the idea of people not really listening to one another was well depicted. But this play is strong and I slightly regret not following the writer earlier.

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