Writer: Henry Filloux-Bennett
Director: Jonnie Riordan
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
While not quite based on a recipe book, Toast is, instead, an adaptation of celebrity chef Nigel Slater’s autobiography of 2004. Of course, food and cooking are major themes of this play that has travelled from Salford via the Edinburgh Fringe, but Toast is more a nostalgic reflection of a 60s/70s childhood. It is entertainingly staged, but it doesn’t quite cut the mustard.
The play begins with Slater as a young boy cooking jam tarts with his asthmatic mother. There are some neat tricks in this scene as we see the ingredients quickly turn into the pastry treats. Not quite ‘here’s some I prepared earlier’ but close enough to bring back memories of cooking shows and Blue Peter. In many ways, Nigel has a perfect childhood, one that he is grateful for. A family holiday to Bournemouth despite his parents’ snobbishness – his mother violently recoils from even the word ‘ketchup’ – is remembered fondly. However, tragedy is only months away.
Scenes are short and sugary sweet, especially in the first half, and so it’s surprising when the play takes a darker turn in the second half when we see Slater living through his teenage years. But even the disasters that befall him here seem steeped in nostalgia like the morello cherries soaked in brandy that his family buy every Christmas. Fortunately, there’s enough humour and goodwill to avert a sugar headache.
There’s no room for subtleties in Henry Filloux-Bennett’s script and characters are portrayed broadly. Giles Cooper plays Nigel well, but his schoolboy lacks the complexities that would make him real. Lizzie Muncey brings some mild eccentricities to Nigel’s mother, otherwise seen here as an angel of the house archetype. Marie Lawrence can only add more comedy to Aunt Joan, who is shown here in the brashest ways. As Nigel’s father, Stephen Ventura is suitably distant, encapsulating the detachment of 70s parenting. Completing the cast is Jake Ferretti, who plays a variety of minor roles, all of them very funny. However, while all the actors do their best, it is a shame that their characters lack depth here. But this is not Chekhov, after all.
Libby Watson’s kitchen design and Zoe Spurr’s lights place the story in hues of yellow, again evocative of the 1970s. Sometimes director Jonnie Riordan stops the narrative and slots in a few choreographed scenes to songs like I Feel The Earth Move and The Same Old Song, which are pleasant enough diversions but do little to push the story forward. Better are the moments when food is passed through the audience, and, even though this means there is much rustling of sweet wrappers and muffled giggles, it’s a fun way to break the fourth wall.
The Other Palace has placed a lot of trust in Toast and is scheduled to run until August, but this lightweight coming-of-age story may not be to everyone’s taste. Like the best recipes, it needs more meat on its bones. Credit to The Other Palace’s restaurant for providing the aroma of burnt toast in the theatre’s foyer on press night. Perhaps not a deliberate ploy, but a nice touch nevertheless.
Runs until 3 August 2019 | Image: Simon Annand