Edinburgh Fringe 2018
The best wine is the one you like the best. Not the one that the expert tells you to like. It’s the same as life – ignore the experts, go with your gut instinct. Even if you don’t know what you are getting into. An alternately light and dark tale from a gifted raconteur.
Theatre critics are not averse to embellishing their reviews with the odd bit of flowery language. It makes them sound like they know what they’re talking about. Anna Thomas would argue that the same is true of wine writers. Only they turn the flowery bits into a veritable bouquet, with a torrent of pretentious twaddle that would be hilarious if they weren’t actually taking themselves so seriously.
However, whilst wine features extensively in this beautifully crafted piece of storytelling (which also contains a generous sprinkling of theatricality together with an impressive lexicography of wine writers’ wankery), the waters in Thomas’ autobiographical tale run surprisingly deep.
This charismatic raconteur sweeps into the room, elegantly clad in wine waiter attire of black and white with an enveloping black apron. Possessed of a ready charm and engaging, winsome communication skills, Thomas has the audience hanging on to her every witty word as she explores the utter drivel that the wine appreciating fraternity come up with to describe what is, after all, just a bit of fermented grape juice.
Confident, expressive, assured, she uses every fixture and fitting in the Cabaret Bar of the Zoo’s Southside venue to good effect, leaning nonchalantly on the bar top as well as exploiting the space behind the bar in her verbally choreographed exploration of all things wine.
Most people in the room had opted for the six-slurp pack of South Australia’s finest wines, ranging from light whites at the start to reds with real meaning and gravitas at the end. And that’s how very much how the story moved as Thomas charted her rise to corporate executive stardom, complete with matching big salary and big stress to her sudden realisation (appropriately whilst enjoying a bottle of one of the wines her audience were imbibing this evening) that there had to be more than working for someone else, especially when that someone else was a faceless corporate entity populated with a seemingly unending supply of the macho and misogynistic.
Thomas has scripted a cleverly threaded extended allegory, with the different wines and their descriptions being linked with seminal points in her career and personal life. But as she related the pivotal point in her life, so the bounce went out of her delivery, the enthusiasm drained from her voice and every young male in the room started to fidget, look away from the stage, even reach for that old comfort blanket, the smartphone. In contrast, every woman in the room sat transfixed by the tale unfolding, many nodding empathetically. As a piece of plot-based theatre, this would be hard for anyone to pull off. What increased its impact was that it wasn’t theatre, it was a real-life tale. You could have heard a pin drop.
But Thomas is a shrewd narrator and knew how to pick the room up again, which she did with aplomb and characteristic vigour, yet still getting the message across that many parts of corporate life, particularly Down Under it seems, have a lot of catching up to do before they can truly claim to have grasped the concept of equality in the workplace. And her cleverly structured denouement had us all laughing again – some I imagine with a bit of relief.
This was a bravura performance from start to finish and utterly compelling. Thomas conveyed her point – that women in some areas of business/life still have to deliver much more to achieve the same recognition – with passion and conviction, but never strayed into the didactic.
Possessed of great comic timing and the ability to craft and tell a story with complete conviction, Thomas is refreshingly candid and honest. She also has a charming sense of self-deprecation, unlike many of those working in the wine world.
Funny, poignant, clever, charming………..hang on, hang on, I’m sounding just like one of those “wine wankers” Thomas was going on about. Just go and see her. This show wins my “Find of the Fringe” award – a nugget of Fringe gold that’s highly recommended viewing.