Theatre Review: Nigel Slater’s TOAST – The Lowry, Salford

Lizzie Muncey and Sam Newton in TOAST.

Lizzie Muncey and Sam Newton in TOAST. Photo Credit: The Other Richard

Nigel Slater’s TOAST is a phenomenal piece of British nostalgia which brings more than just a single memory to life on stage

The theme for the second of The Lowry’s Week 53 Festival is ‘coming of age’ and TOAST, an interactive trip down memory lane which explores the childhood of one of Britain’s favourite foodies, Nigel Slater, couldn’t be more fitting.

Adapted from Nigel Slater’s book ‘Toast – The Story of a Boy’s Hunger’ which won the British Book Award for Biography of the Year, TOAST brings nostalgic moments, once lived, back to life with different tastes and smells of food through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy. Nigel, played by Sam Newton, faces the trials and tribulations of living in an averagely dysfunctional family, changing schools and making friends and growing up in a world where man’s place was most definitely not in the kitchen.

The audience is welcomed to the show with an all too familiar smell of toast lingering in the air and a homemade jam tart on their chairs. Marguerite Pattern’s ‘Cookery in Colour’ cookbook from 1960 opens the door to a young Nigel Slater’s journey with food in the first scene, where one can immediately see the warm relationship he shares with his mother from their tender moments spent in the kitchen including breakfasts of porridge to Sunday roasts, to baking their favourite treats of jam tarts, Christmas puddings, and the very significant, mince pies.

Lizzie Muncey, who plays Nigel’s mum, brings to life the classic gender role of a woman in the 1960s. Her yellow flowered frock and always perfect hair continues to shine as the woman of the household pushes her illness to the side to see to the house and the rest of the family. She is forever in the kitchen, baking and cooking up a storm, albeit, ironically, she is not a very good cook at all! Nonetheless, she is the apple of her little boy’s eye, and he continues to help alongside her, correcting her mistakes and not doing anything to outshine her ‘original’ ways.

Nigel continues to share his innocent view on family life in narrative form with holiday trips away, gardeners who come and go and with their first experiences, inspired by Nigel’s dad, of the Italian novelty ‘Spaghetti Bolognaise’ and using the ‘coffee percolator’ for the first time. These are only heightened and made exceptionally funny with the addition of deaf, old Aunt Fanny, played by Marie Lawrence, an entirely relatable raucous member of the family who has an endless supply of sweets, which, in some way or another, everyone can relate to. Here, the audience is treated to pink and white striped bags of sweets by the cast members to suck on while being entertained by the ‘can and cannot’ eat sweets list dictated by Nigel’s dad, played by Stephen Ventura, due to the ‘gender’ role each type of sweet has.

Sam Newton and Marie Lawrence in TOAST

Sam Newton and Marie Lawrence in TOAST. Photo Credit: The Other Richard

His relatively distant relationship with his son is countered by his wife’s love for the child and the mother and son’s heartwarming dance scene has them moving around on the kitchen counters to Charles Trenent’s ‘La mer’, smiles and tears upon their faces, bringing a whole new bond to their relationship and a new meaning of growing up just before Christmas time comes and the unmistakable missing ingredient of mince-meat creates a whole new twist to the story.

With the significant red toaster missing from on top of the fridge, Nigel finds himself being force fed undesired breakfasts consisting of egg, moving to a new house, moving schools and living with the new, skinny waisted, cigarette smoking, high strung, compulsive cleaner, Aunty Joan, played by Marie Lawrence.

Nigel is soon in a food war with Aunt Joan after bringing home his treats from cooking class but is finally outshone by her lavish lemon meringue pie which the audience indulge in as mini versions of it are passed around. Nigel learns the harshness of replacement, and it’s not long before the audience again share the taste of the stage when Nigel’s dad teaches us how to eat the Friday night treat of a walnut whip, presenting a ‘perfect’ family pastime.

Nigel embraces love and loss in the second half, all the while touching on his childhood, his cookbooks and his mum. He comes true to himself creating his own versions of cherished meals on stage accompanied, of course, by toast, before stepping into the big wide world alone.

The nine-year old tells us the truths of growing up frame by frame and makes you grow with him, food becoming the prominent feature and link throughout.

We all mold specific relationships together with food and family, and this clever twist from writer Henry Filloux-Bennet and director Jonnie Riordan is guaranteed to touch, smell and make you feel at least one of your childhood memories, making you homesick for moments that have past.

Being able to watch the scenes unfold and taste the food which tie the two together gives even more of an extraordinary and multisensory feel to the play, connecting you to the show on a deeper level and bringing a whole new meaning to the word and the taste of toast. A definite must-see show for an experience like never before!

5 out of 5 stars

Nigel Slater’s TOAST runs at The Lowry until 2 June 2018.