DramaReviewSouth Coast

Toast – Connaught Theatre, Worthing

Writer: Richard Bean

Director: Eleanor Rhode

Reviewer: Jo Payne

Containing every form of humour and wit, this is a charming play. Through a careful build-up of characters and a fine balance of comedy, the audience is told a simple but effective story set in a bake house in the 1970s.

The events start at 3pm and time becomes a key factor in the action throughout; a working clock on the backdrop measures the pace. All the action is set in one room: the break room. One-by-one, characters are introduced as they clock on to their shift or have a break (“smoke” or “half-hour”). Between the roles of mixers, oven men and those packing and changing the tins, the men manage to keep the bread baking for their mysterious boss, Mr Beckett. That is, until things start to go wrong just after 10pm.

The success of this play lies in the thorough introduction of every character. Each section of dialogue during a worker’s break allows the audience to delve further into their life – the relationships between them, history in and out of the factory, and their partners waiting at home for them to return from a long night shift. Those observing become so engrossed in the men’s personalities and knowledgeable about their lives that it feels like they’ve been watching them for some time. Although the action of the story takes a while to develop, when it arrives the audience are informed enough to enjoy it. They can appreciate each character’s unique reaction to it as well as some unexpected motives and the potential consequences for the others.

From Blakey’s (Steve Nicholson) out-of-tune guitar in the opening scene to the pranks continuing during the curtain call, fun and comedy weave their way through the potentially over-political plot. Cultural stereotypes, puns and quips are all utilised alongside physical comedy and some brilliant facial expressions. It is quite a talent for Matthew Kelly (Nellie) to appear so grumpy and fed up for such a long period of time on stage. Kieran Knowles provides a light-hearted breath of youth as Dezzie while John Wark brings an air of mystery while playing Lance.

The set – quite simply a rarely-cleaned room – has low fluorescent strip lighting and enough amenities to give the impression of the actual place. One can wonder whether they have allowed the tea bags which missed the bin to build up over the shows or whether it is designed to be like that. Hot water is produced from flowing taps so the multiple cups of tea made during the show also have steam emanating from them, thus adding to the realistic feel. Towards the end, subtle light changes reflect the mood of the action and dialogue.

This is a thoroughly entertaining and truly British piece of theatre. The cast expertly execute Richard Bean’s sharp and steady dialogue while also, it appears, having a hoot on stage. This is well worth a visit while it stops in Worthing on tour.

Runs until Saturday 19 March 2016 ¦ Image: Oliver King


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