Henry Filloux-Bennett who wrote Toast, based on the book by Nigel Slater, has captured this beautiful coming of age teen boy drama with such a clear understanding of Nigel’s childhood memories from aged 9 to 17, that it makes for a recipe for success. A theatrical tasty treat that is utterly delightful and funny, but that also captures the life of a middle to upper class lad with dreams.
Through Nigel’s direct conversations with the audience played by a splendid Giles Cooper we get to know about their annual holiday to beautiful Bournemouth, about the fact that his father was so stuck in his ways, that his mother was content with her life to provide a safe home for Nigel and her husband.
This is a well-crafted trip down memory lane with the sounds of the time by The Four Tops and Dusty Springfield adding to the magic. This is also a complete immersive theatrical experience as the audience gets fed with treats and sweets. This about the value of sharing.
Bennett also focuses on the effect of loss; that Slater’s father after the death of his wife starts to beat his son as a release mechanism for the anger and hurt he now feels – before meeting another woman, Joan, played by a very enigmatic Marie Lawrence, who he tries to convince his son is just like his mother was. This is something the young Slater will not accept. Lizzie Muncey and Stephen Ventura are just superb as Slater’s parents.
There is the very clever use of props intrinsic to the story and actual live cooking on stage. Culinary comments that make for great comedy moments, of pure food snobbery (always Crosse and Blackwell never Heinz), a fabulous dance routine based on the ‘go to work on an egg’ advertising campaign and that for the sake of appearances the family only shopped in certain stores.
This is a well researched study of an era where etiquette was important; ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ a must. The part of the story where Slater is pondering on his own sexual identity is handled with an empathy that is so sincere with Slater having feelings for the gardener and also his best pal at school played by Jake Ferretti.
As the plays ends we see Slater standing in front of the Savoy, the large green neon letters beckoning him in to start his life. Toast is top nosh; like the perfect biscuit for dunking in a cup of tea, which remains whole. Scrumptious theatre with a good starter, main and pudding.