As I walked into Natasha York’s These Things Take Wine, I was relieved to see that there was a bar at the back of the room. One look at the set – the grand piano bathed in soft light, the red velvet chairs sitting around candlelit tables – and I realised that yes, wine was necessary for this experience. And I mean that in a good way. While I have heard that cabaret is best matched with a rich Merlot, cider was two dollars cheaper, so I settled.
The stage resembled what every binge drinker thinks their room, their life, looks like from the outside: a little bit wild, but glamorous, chic. There was a leather lounge with a gold frame, gorgeous high heels left where they were kicked off a few steps away, like you imagine Carrie would after a long, hard day of whatever it is those Sex in the City girls do. There were bottles of wine, glasses at varying stages of emptiness and even the mandatory goon bag, but all arranged perfectly on the coffee table. Coloured lights danced across the stark black wall at the back, and continued throughout, playful and inviting.
There was a mountain of blankets piled up on the lounge, as the house lights dimmed and Daniele Buati began to work his magic at the piano, the mountain moved and Natasha York emerged, hair awry, makeup smudged; an image that would be familiar to any women who have had a big night, and the men that live with them. Spoilers, I know, but the entrance, which elicited gasps of delight from other audience members, was somewhat predictable.
I felt the same about the opening number. York’s adaptation of Valerie was certainly clever and charming, she is a hugely charismatic performer and her voice is bold and rich, filling the entire room. But while it was entertaining and musically brilliant – Buati strong on the piano – it seemed a little clichéd: the wild child with the chicken nugget in her bra.
But York knows how to write a show: get the audience on board early with a good albeit safe opening number, win them over with a string of familiar tunes re-imagined as tales of inebriation and delivered with gusto, make them comfortable in a world of dancing coloured lights, catchy tunes and female empowerment, then hit them with a bit dose of reality. She takes us from the embarrassingly familiar (who hasn’t bemoaned the lack of KFC delivery on a hungover morning), to the laughably absurd (dragged into the cop shop by a ‘red-headed giant’ for drunken swearing), leading us laughing through the story of her relationship with wine until we stumble upon the heart of the matter.
Binge drinking is never just a bit of a laugh, no matter how many pop songs you song about it. And Natasha peels away the layers of her love-hate relationship with vino gently, revealing a genuine vulnerability and dejection at the bottom of the bottle. It is hugely effective and affecting. She drops hints like breadcrumbs along the way: songs about her musical theatre school boys, lines hinting at ‘the first man who didn’t want me’, a hilarious audience participation moment that demonstrates her confidence and empowerment but also an absence that wine seems to fill, as she ends that moment with a beautiful rendition of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.
But York never gives the audience, nor herself it seems, the opportunity to dwell on the melancholy,. She rushes headlong into the next hilarious hijinks, a highlight being her reenactment of her day job as a children’s entertainer. The moment she reveals the reason she reaches for the bottle, wrestles for the bottle, even destroys a cork with a power drill for the bottle (because let’s be honest, no-one drinks wine through a straw because they just love wine) is delivered with stunning sincerity, and a truly affecting cover of Time After Time that puts Baz Luhrman to shame.
I wanted more of this moment. The final song was another clever and catchy pop song adapted for wine appreciation and I found myself asking, has anything changed? Is her relationship with wine the same? There’s nothing wrong with loving wine, but is she still getting kicked out of karaoke bars and hijacking buskers? I felt like the final song, even though it was fun, didn’t give the closure I wanted.
York is a phenomenal performer, charismatic and courageous. Buati is also brilliant, and he plays his role exceptionally well throughout the show, not just as a piano and ukulele master, but as the hilarious, sassy voice of reason. He often resembles the snarky voice in the back of your head that reminds you of all the stupid things your drunk-self did the night before. His characters add great texture and depth to the piece. His comic timing is impeccable and their duet in Musical Theatre Boys is brilliant.
These Things Need Wine is a lot of fun, but like a night of binge drinking it has a sting in its tail. While I would have liked to see more of the sting, to find out whether she got the venom out, there’s no denying that York and Buati are both stellar performers, and this is a show well worth seeing.