The Tea Diaries is an undeniably charming piece of theatre about the unifying power of tea. The playwright, Phoebe McIntosh, ingeniously uses the beverage as a thematic device that helps to weave different threads of narrative into one succinct story, by imagining tea breaks to provide a therapy service of sorts. The cafe is a safe space in which we can divulge our darkest secrets.
Essentially, it is a story of loss, of guilt, of loneliness – it is a story of tea.
The Tea House theatre, located in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, is the perfect host to this sweet tale. The audience sat in a tangled web of tables and chairs designed to camouflage us. Set in a teahouse, Julia Twogood invites Cami to stay during closing hours and enjoy a cup of tea. They quickly abandon the adopted mask of customer and server, and instead, choose to fast-track a friendship. This instant level of intimacy encourages them to open up about their past and interrogate some long buried truths.
The unsophisticated philosophising about life and death becomes a little tedious and lacks sincerity, which is a shame. For the most part, the two actresses are completely alluring on stage. Natalie Loader’s comedic sensibilities are spot on; Loader’s ability to deliver a deadpan ‘tea-ism’ is unbeatable. McIntosh (also the second lead actress) is a captivating story-teller, yet, somehow her dramatic confessions feel a little forced and lack ingenuity. Her demonstration of a tea ceremony she witnessed on her travels is lovely, yet she seems to utilise the same delivery formula for every vignette in the play and it becomes a little tiresome.
Having completed a successful run at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Tea House Diaries should be able to locate an equally accepting audience in London. The framing of this story within a café provides interesting actions for the scenes and allows some tea- based humour to seep through. The inclusion of George Orwell and his musings on tea is welcome.
Its potential is thwarted slightly by the unsubtle and clunky dramatic climaxes that work against the more naturalistic energy of the rest of the piece – much like the cake that sat on the plate in front of me, the icing was laid on a little thick. Florence and the machine’s ‘Dog Days’ opens and closes the show; a choice that embodies the naivety of this production. The emotion feels a little forced rather than letting characters find it themselves. With a musical choice like ‘Dog Days’, it feels as though we are being dictated how to feel, without genuinely feeling much at all.
Overall, The Tea House Diaries is a sweet and entertaining play that bites off a little more than it can chew. In moments, the potential of this play to be outstanding is obvious, yet a little more fine tuning is needed.
The Tea House Diaries played at The Tea House.