Writer: Henry Filloux-Bennett
Director and Choreographer: Jonnie Riordan
Reviewer: Abbie Rippon
Settling into your seat while breathing in the scent of fresh, slightly burnt toast, an audience watching Toast is in for a really enjoyable, homely evening. Adapted from the novel of the same name, Toasttells the story of Nigel Slater, food writer and broadcaster, during the teenage years that had such an influence on his love for cooking and his eventual career.
The subtitle of Slater’s book, ‘the story of a boy’s hunger’ is a pretty apt explanation for this play and echoes one of the running themes for the evening: food. Slater’s relationship with food and its relevance to his relationships with his family, friends and every other character we meet.
This production feels comforting, warm and intimate, a peek into the life of Nigel Slater (played by Giles Cooper) who’s narration is interspersed with scenes of 1960s family life. It is reminiscent of Godber’s Happy Families; this is a play that feels like home.
Director and choreographer Jonnie Riordan has done an excellent job of marrying moments of touching truth with stylistic movement to take Slater’s teenage memories from page to stage. One particularly memorable scene is partway through act two where the ensemble all imitate Joan, the psycho cleaner stepmother, hoover in one hand and cigarette in the other. This hilarious but eerie couple of minutes is a real insight into teenage Slater’s feelings for the woman who tries to take his mother’s place. Libby Watson’s set complements the movement and text superbly, a stylised 1960s kitchen with moving cabinets used to depict changes in location and used creatively and effectively as part of the choreography. Every part of this production from the music to the set to the direction works. More importantly, it all works together.
The cast of five are slick and well-rehearsed. Cooper is an endearing Nigel, Blair Plant as Nigel’s Dad capably demonstrates the difficulty of becoming a lone parent to a teenage boy, without Nigel’s mother there to smooth his rough edges. Samantha Hopkins embodies a child’s vision of an evil stepmother as Joan and Stefan Edwards as Josh and numerous other roles is energetic and hilarious in his multi-role-play. It is Katy Fenderman who plays Nigel’s Mum who really pulls at the audience’s heartstrings. This is Nigel’s story, he sees his mum as an angel and that is exactly how she comes across in performance. Jam tarts and all!
This is a really lovely show. It’s unpretentious and unassuming. You feel comforted just watching it as if you have been welcomed into the Slater family home. Grab a walnut whip and get yourself a ticket. But a word of warning: don’t go to the show hungry. Food is mentioned so much you’ll be salivating by the interval.
Runs until 14 September 2019 | Image: Simon Annand