Since its premiere in 2018 as part of Week 53 at The Lowry, Henry Filloux-Bennett’s adaptation of Nigel Slater’s memoir has appeared in London and at the Edinburgh Fringe, and now returns for a run at its theatrical birthplace.
The story of Nigel’s evolution from a food-obsessed 9-year-old, baking jam tarts with his mum to an independent teenager getting his first job at the Savoy, is told with nostalgia and charm. The strong smell of burnt toast before curtain up, the bright retro kitchen set and costumes, and in particular director Jonnie Riordan’s slickly choreographed movement sequences all contribute to its evocation of a 1960’s childhood. Whether gliding on cake trolleys, gorging on mimed sweets, cleaning in slow motion or waltzing on the kitchen counter tops, these surreal breaks from reality are brilliantly staged to the sound of songs from the era and bring some much-needed movement and energy to a production that could otherwise be quite static.
Katy Federman stands out, both for her touching portrayal of Nigel’s Mum – where her every gesture is full of palpable care and love for her son – and for her contrasting comical turns as the drunken cookery teacher and ‘Top of the Form’ quiz contestant. Giles Cooper is more believable as the older Nigel, having his first romantic encounter and using wry asides to cope with his step-mother, but doesn’t quite convince as a 9-year-old.
This time Toast is staged in the Quays Theatre, rather than in the intimate setting of the black-boxed Lyric stage, and being further removed from the action does slightly lessen the play’s magic.
It also unfortunately means that fewer edible treats are distributed amongst the audience than in the previous iteration, but there are still paper bags of sweets to pass along each row – a moment which creates lovely social interactions within the audience – and the infamous Walnut Whips. (The sound of several hundred wrappers rustling and crackling on cue is both heart-warming and amusing.) Both instances are small celebrations of food’s ability to cement memories and create connections, a key message of this play.
Toast is a touching and well-told story of food, family and growing up; it’s brilliantly staged, incorporating food and movement in imaginative ways, and manages to balance tragedy and humour without becoming sentimental.★ ★ ★ ★