Fusing music and movement with smell and taste, Henry Filloux-Bennett’s adaption of Nigel Slater’s TOAST quietly stirs the soul and the senses
From the wafts of almost-burnt toast which fill the auditorium as the audience takes to their seats to the bags of old-fashioned sweets handed out midway through the performance, few theatre shows can claim to be as multi-sensory as Nigel Slater’s TOAST. Just like the memoir it is based on, this tender adaptation quietly stirs the soul and senses, demonstrating how food not only sustains us but also shapes us, sometimes in the most unexpected of ways.
As 1960s tunes quietly play in the background and Mum (Katy Federman) potters around her pastel-coloured kitchen, life seems good for nine-year-old Nigel. Finding joy in the kitchen, Nigel’s greatest love is baking with his loving mother but when she suddenly becomes ill, Nigel’s world is turned upside down, leaving him to navigate the difficulties of growing up and his increasingly strained relationship with his Dad (Blair Plant) alone.
At this point, is easy to mistake TOAST for a play that’s rather dark and sad and while you’ll certainly shed a tear at least once during this two-hour production, Henry Filloux-Bennett’s adaption is far from depressing. There is a beautiful lightness to the narrative, with Director Jonnie Riordan using music and movement to not only denote time changes but also to infuse a sense of joy, fun and humour into this coming-of-age story.
Unsurprisingly, food takes centre stage here with the audience invited to try tastes from Nigel’s childhood including old fashioned sweets and Walnut Whips. Libbie Watson’s colourful picture-book kitchen set not only looks the part but is functional too, with characters slicing, chopping and cooking live on stage, as smells of garlic mushrooms waft tantalisingly from the stage, bringing with them the feeling of comfort and nostalgia.
Giles Cooper delivers an engaging performance as Nigel, leading the audience through the story with his energetic first-person narrative. While it’s always a little odd seeing a grown man in schoolboy shorts and long socks, Cooper succeeds in ageing the character well, taking Nigel from a curious nine-year-old boy into an ambitious young man.
Elsewhere Katy Federman is wonderfully warm as Nigel’s mother while Blair Plant is coldly realistic as Nigel’s father. Stefan Edwards delivers the most laughs in his multitude of roles while Samantha Hopkins as step-mum ‘Aunty Joan’ has both the moves and the menace of a sixties femme fatale.
While the play has certainly been tightened up from its original run at Week 53 at The Lowry, the brave decision to incorporate food into the production still means that sweet wrappers can be heard scrunching and unravelling for good ten minutes after the pick ’n’ mix has been generously distribution of, hindering the otherwise fluid flow of the piece.
That said, the audience is undeniably engaged throughout and you can’t fault the writing here, Filloux-Bennett’s poetic and witty script capturing not only Nigel’s personality but the same intoxicating and engrossing pleasure of food that the real-life Slater delivered in his cookbooks.
Whether you’re familiar with Nigel Slater’s work or not, TOAST is a nostalgic feast worth savouring.
Nigel Slater’s TOAST runs at the Lawrence Batley Theatre until 24 August 2019
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.