Nigel Slater’s Toast is a heart-warming tale brimming with laughter, love and loss based upon Slater’s best-selling memoirs of the same name. We follow Nigel as a child at his mother’s apron strings to his first role working as a chef in a small village pub, seeing every up, down and dish in-between.
The production, directed and choreographed by Jonnie Riordan, seamlessly blends movement, comedy and music in a fast paced and funny first act. With constant references to Marguerite Pattern’s Cookery in Colour, food is never far from the action, reflecting the colourful 1960s-style kitchen assembled onstage. However, this set is more than a foreshadowing of Nigel’s culinary future, it plays a central role in the onstage action as the countertops move with the cast, enabling baking, dancing and fluid choreography to be intertwined with the main plot. A personal favourite of these is the game ‘Top of the form’ in which the cast are quizzed on Nigel’s father’s strict rules on sweets. It is moments such as this, which bring out Nigel’s light-hearted childhood innocence that gives a real uplifting sense to the play, while making the serious introduction of death even more impactful.
While the second act still includes these comedic choreographed sections (including a cooking war with Joan the evil stepmother) it is on the whole far more serious; providing a nice contrast to the childlike positivity of act one. However, some of these darker moments are dealt with through comedy, which occasionally feels slightly regressive as we never have time to really process the serious trials and losses Nigel faces, giving the show a sort of rose-tinted feel.
Giles Cooper as Nigel is a real joy to watch. His childlike excitement and excellent comic timing draws the audience in immediately. Cooper’s mannerisms are highly reminiscent of Slater’s, showing the real dedication, work and research that Copper has clearly put into the role, as well as the benefit of the cast being able to work closely with the man himself. Another stand out performance in my eyes is Samantha Hopkins who plays Joan. Firstly, her ability to multirole from a movement-based role in act one to a larger than life, scheming stepmother in act two is highly impressive. However, what really grabbed me is the accuracy and comedy found in her black country accent. Being from the
Midlands myself hearing the accent sustained, loud and proud onstage was a real treat.
What really brings Toast alive is that it encompasses all of the senses. This is something that is not often found in the theatre but brought so much to the performance that it truly would have been lacking without it. The auditorium smells of cooking toast and then in the productions final moments Nigel cooks pan fried garlic mushrooms on stage; filling the theatre with a glorious smell of cooked garlic and a sense of home. It is these smells along with the sweets and walnut whips which are handed to every audience member, which gives the performance its soul. It is these touches that reminds us that through life’s up and downs, food will bring you home, just as food is Nigel’s link to his mother and his roots.
Toast leaves us thinking of your own childhood memories and food favourites, as well as feeling thoroughly entertained by a clever cast and witty book. This is a show for anyone, whether you have read Slater’s cookery books or not. It will warm your heart and leave you with a strong desire for a piece of toast.
Toast played the York Theatre Royal until 23 November. For more information and tickets, visit the York Theatre Royal website.