The Whisky Taster, The Bush, London

5.00

Raise your glass to a pacey comedy

The Noughties' never took off, did it, as a name?" declares one of the ad-agency executives in The Whisky Taster, a brilliantly pacey and culturally penetrating new comedy by James Graham. His younger twentysomething colleague, Nicola, admits "I completely didn't realise we were in a new decade, for ages". She speaks for many of us. Sometimes it's hard to register the bizarre changes that are happening all around you or to hang on to a sense of their weirdness. For example, as I live in Oxford, I have to use internet cafes a lot in London. It now feels almost normal to have a male neighbour in one of these ever-larger places who is watching hard-core pornography, while behind me, a visitor from a small African state, say, is using the place as his office, loudly doing currency-exchange deals via Skype.

Conveying the speed and the sheer informational and imagistic overload of our era is a hard task, but the theatre can have a salutary role in slowing down the rhythm and forcing one to concentrate on a few intensely focused aspects of life. Directed with a quick-witted, uncanny flair by James Grieve, The Whisky Taster manages to square the circle. It induces some of the exhilaration you get from the headlong knowingness of the best TV comedy, such as The Thick of It, while having the strong metaphoric framework of inspired theatre. And in its central protagonist, it fields a cleverly angled and coded symbol of the age.

Part of the great pleasure of the piece lies in the way the superb cast fly with dialogue that has its ear to the future (a "viral" marketing campaign aims "to plant a few agents provocateurs on Twitter"). Graham has picked up on the way a lot of young people now can't say or gesture anything except in a parodic, "mock" fashion, as though not wanting to be seen committing themselves in a world where everything is so provisional. And there's the deftly deployed savvy about the twisted tricks of the ad-world and its debatable double-bluff whereby, say, you place a product on the market at deliberately too high a level, in the hope that on its "deposition to the mainstream", you'll be able to clean up.

At the heart of the play, though, there's Barney, brilliantly played by Samuel Barnett, who suffers from synaesthesia which means that his neural pathways (evoked in the coloured-neon circuitry that zigzags round the Perspex casing of Lucy Osborne's splendidly objective/subjective in-the-round design) overheat and frazzle This causes him to spasm and to vomit up in a chaotic catalogue all the associative attributes which the condition makes him project on to phenomena. He seems to represent, as a victim of this dubious gift, a benign version of the pressurised lack of discrimination of our times. As they debate the merits of a new vodka, he is brought into wonderfully suggestive contention with the granitic Scots whisky-taster of the title (the formidable yet gentle John Stahl) who knows that the best things need to age and can be the better for a bit of impurity. This wise monolith turns out to be the father of lippy Nicola (spot-on Kate O'Flynn). She has a work-partnership blanche with the shy, self-mistrustful Barney. He'd like to turn their relationship a less chaste colour.

By these means and metaphors, the very talented author manages to pack in unpretentiously many of our current preoccupations. This staging is a further indication of why some think that its producer, Josie Rourke, the Bush's artistic director, has the right to be considered a strong contender for the top job at the National on that hopefully far-distant day when Nick Hytner decides to relinquish the reins.

To 20 February (020 8743 5050)

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot