Writer: Nigel Slater
Adaptor: Henry Filloux-Bennet
Director: Jonnie Riordan
Reviewer: Matthew Forrest
Over the last couple of weeks The Lowry has been hosting the unique cultural extravaganza Week 53.As the festival draws to a close, they have one last tasty morsel for our delectation: The world premiere of the stage adaptation of Nigel Slater’s memoirs, Toast.
This is a classic ‘coming of age’ story as we see the young Slater attempt to work out who he is and what he wants to become. Against the backdrop of a ‘homely’ kitchen setting and with the smell of burnt toast in the air, we are introduced to Slater as a young boy cooking jam tarts with his Mother. This raises a passion for cooking in him that will continue throughout his life. However, soon tragedy strikes and Slater is left with an abrasive father who doesn’t understand him and later a stepmother in constant competition with him. In addition, it’s not just food on the menu but an exploration of sexuality and the awkwardness and lonely world that being a teenager can be.
This is a fantastic, unique production filled with a great deal of humour and charm but also packing a punch that at times can be heartbreaking and cruel. The 1960s going into the 70s setting is shown through wonderful kitchen set stage and lighting design: the cast emerge through a fridge on stage and so begins a tale that is so in keeping with the ‘kitchen sink’ films of that era.
Sam Newton is on great form as the young Slater, giving him a true sense of warmth and vulnerability. There is nothing ‘showy’ or flash about his portrayal: just an honest performance that the role requires. He is supported by a fine group of actors, Lizzy Muncey, Stephen Ventura, Marie Lawrence and Andy Brady, who play various roles throughout the performance and certainly get the opportunity to demonstrate how fine a set of comedic/dramatic actors they are. The scenes involving Newton and Muncey playing his mum, Kathleen are particularly touching.
Director Jonnie Riordan certainly knows how to get the audience on side, as we are treated to various sweet treats such as mini jam tart, and a mini lemon meringue throughout the performance: although one scene will put you off walnut whips for life! There are several dream-like sequences that will have you doubled up with laughter: one scene involving Nigel, his Step Mum Joan, and a giant meringue looked like an episode of Great British Bake Off had Dennis Potter been in charge.
That’s not to say that the production doesn’t have its flaws. The decision to stage the show in the production area of the Lyric theatre is one that I greatly admire, and provided a rare opportunity to see backstage however, the limited space meant the seating wasn’t always suitable for the performance and at times this caused a few viewing and sound issues with dialogue, but these are minor quibbles, on what is bold unique, entertaining theatrical experience.
Runs until the 2 June 2018 | Image: The Other Richard