Writer: Henry Filloux-Bennett
Director and choreographer: Jonnie Riordan
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Back in the days when Michelin stars were a thing of the future for the UK and Fanny Craddock was teaching the nation to cook, a 12-year-old Nigel Slater was learning his craft by helping his Mum to make jam tarts and mince pies in her Wolverhampton kitchen. Now a famed food writer, Slater’s autobiography of his adolescent years has already been adapted for television, but, if the ingredients here are familiar, the art comes in mixing them afresh to serve up a tasty treat that is distinctively theatrical.
Sam Newton is a marvel as Nigel, holding centre stage for almost 90 minutes, as his character finds that the end of childhood is a time of fun and discovery, but also of pain and loss, his experiences all linked to the aromas and tastes of the kitchen. Nigel would have been a near contemporary of Adrian Mole and he shows similar traits to that fictional character, possessing both innocence and youthful wisdom as he makes casual observations directly to the audience while he goes about his daily life.
“It’s impossible not to love someone who makes good toast” declares Nigel and his doting Mum (Lizzie Muncie) makes good toast. However, at Christmas, she dies shortly after incurring Nigel’s wrath by leaving the mincemeat off her shopping list and Nigel is left with his bad-tempered Telegraph-reading Dad (Mark Fleischmann), whose only contribution to the culinary arts is a disastrous attempt at spaghetti Bolognese.
Things get worse for Nigel when Dad takes up with the cleaner, Joan, played by Marie Lawrence as a vulgar woman with a thick Black Country accent. War breaks out, but Joan has the advantage of being an ace cook. Writer Henry Filloux-Bennett throws a fair amount of sharp wit into the mixing bowl and Newton’s excellent comic timing does the rest. The production credits include a Food Director (James Thompson), presumably responsible for the nibbles that are handed around the audience in addition to Walnut Whips, which, we are instructed, can only be consumed on the command of Slater senior.
Director Jonnie Riordan strikes a good balance between comedy, sadness and 1970s nostalgia. He adds zest with several choreographed routines, performed to pop tracks of the era. There are darker elements in Slater’s story, but Riordan wraps them in a glow of warmth and rarely lets his production be anything other than good fun.
Runs until 26 August 2018 | Image: Sid Scott