Toast is the play written by Henry Filloux-Bennett based on the autobiographical book by TV chef Nigel Slater about his difficult childhood, including coming to terms with his sexuality. Dave Cross met up with the writer for a cup of tea and… Toast.
Hi Henry, what is the basic story of Toast?
Toast is the story of Nigel Slater’s childhood. It’s about growing up, and the food and tastes that shape us all.
Was it the book or the 2010 BBC film which led you to write the play?
It was the book. I got given it as a present whilst I was working as a cook – I used to read it on the bus to and from work every day and dreamed one day of putting it on stage.
How much influence did that film have on your adaptation and how similar is it to the book and film?
Shamefully I haven’t actually watched the film yet – I thought that if I did it might affect my adaptation too much. The play is quite different from the book – particularly in how it ends – but I hope that Nigel’s humour and warmth has stayed central to the play, as it is in the book.
A key part of the book is Nigel’s sexual awakening, how did you handle this in the play?
I think the main thing for me was to show the honesty of how you can have different experiences growing up and it’s only later on in life that you might want to put a label on it. Actually at the time it’s a bit awkward, messy, and experimental, and whether it was the characters Julia or Stuart, that’s what I wanted to reflect in the play.
When the film came out there was some controversy about the portrayal of the father and stepmother, was this an issue with the play?
It was certainly a consideration, yes, but we didn’t want to either shy away, nor unfairly represent Nigel’s dad or stepmother. I don’t think either of them come out of the play particularly well, but it’s a child’s memory of these relationships that we’re presenting, it’s not supposed to reflect the dynamic completely accurately.
How involved has Nigel Slater been in the production?
Nigel has been really involved. From the first draft of the script to the first day of the workshop to auditions to first day of rehearsals to first performance – he and his collaborator James Thompson have been there every step of the way, which has been incredible.
Food is obviously important in this work, can you tell us about how food and cooking feature in the play?
Absolutely – food and cooking is completely central to the story. There’s food throughout… and we may or may not cook; you’ll have to come along to find out…