Writer: Henry Filloux-Bennett
Director: Jennie Riordan
Reviewer: Andrea Allen
“It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you…once the warm, salty butter has hit your tongue, you are smitten, putty in their hands”. The visceral, evocative language which opens this show is perfectly complemented by the smell of burnt toast hitting your nostrils as you step into the auditorium, particularly as our nine-year-old protagonist informs us that he’s “nine years old and have never seen butter without black bits in it”. Based on Nigel Slater’s autobiography of the same name Toast is a heartwarming, tender, nostalgic journey into childhood, exploring the origins of a celebrated cook’s passion for the understated, homestyle cooking for which he is famed.
There is no weak link to be found in the five-strong cast. Giles Cooper achieves the slide from bright-eyed bushy-tailed innocence into grief-stricken childhood and teenage neuroses with ease and an earnestness that never slips into self-indulgence. There is a palpable warmth between Cooper’s Nigel and Katy Federman as his mother which infiltrates the entire show, a poignant evocation of how those close to us can live on in our memories even after decades have passed. Through Henry Filloux-Bennett’s skilful adaptation of Slater’s original memoirs, it feels as though the spirit of Slater’s mother remains in the auditorium throughout, a sense which is incredibly moving in a show which, being autobiographically based, could so easily luxuriate in saccharine rose-tinted reminiscence.
That said, Director Jennie Riordan isn’t afraid to confront the rough with the smooth. Nigel’s turbulent relationship with his father is explored unflinchingly, with moments of tenderness interspersed with bigotry, cluelessness and violence, executed flawlessly and with relentless energy by Blair Plant. Similarly stepmother ‘Aunt Joan’ is depicted with intermittently hilarious and disturbingly toxic levels of passive aggression and cloying insincerity by Samantha Hopkins.
Libby Watson’s set is wonderfully redolent of an era gone but still very much in living memory for many. An aesthetic which perfect complements the memories of an age gone, but far from forgotten. A feast for the mind, the nose and the eyes, Toast may not be a three-course meal at the Savoy where Slater got his first proper gig, but it’s an impressive culinary treat that should not be missed.
Runs until 16 October 2019 | Image: Piers Foley