Theatre review - Nigel Slater's Toast at The Lowry Theatre, Salford
PUBLISHED: 12:49 31 May 2018 | UPDATED: 15:08 31 May 2018
A cornucopia of delights: tears and laughter, food and music deliver a coming of age story to charm all the senses
Nigel Slater’s autobiographical novel, ‘Toast, the story of a boy’s hunger’, was published in 2004 and in 2010 was turned into a TV film starring Freddie Highmore, Helena Bonham Carter and Ken Stott. It tells the story of Slater’s childhood in Wolverhampton, told through a series of vignettes that revolve around food. The stage play has taken the much-loved story and turned it into something really very special.
When you have a story that relates almost wholly to food, you would expect more than verbal reference to it on stage. What you get is a three-dimensional immersion in a way I could not have anticipated: on arrival, each audience member discovered a small, perfectly formed jam tart waiting on their chair – the reason for which becomes clear within moments of the play’s start, as Nigel shares his happiest memories of cooking with his mother, aged nine. Throughout the production, sweet treats are shared with the audience, much to everybody’s delight. We witness multiple cookery sessions and lessons, building to Nigel’s frantic creation of garlic mushrooms on toast, his father’s go-to happy food, upon learning of his death. As the scent of garlic and toast wafts across the space, the audience stills, caught in a moment of intense pain, beautifully portrayed by actor Sam Newton, a serious talent and perfectly cast in this role.
The staging itself adds vivacity and dazzle to the storytelling; the physicality and choreographed moves of many scenes add a dreamlike quality reminding the audience that our narrator is indeed just a child and his memories are recounted through the hazy gaze of a nine-year old, where little is understood but much is felt. Grand gestures make the serving of hot buttered toast a distillation of maternal love we can all relate to and a fabulous scene where housekeeper Joan Potter, played to perfection by Marie Lawrence, demonstrates her obsession with cleaning and aggressive desire to rule the roost is absolutely cracking.
A cast of just five take the roles of 25, with only Sam Newton remaining in his one role throughout. He never leaves the stage, even when not directly involved, he observes: a witness to his own life, as he recalls it. The swapping of characters, as people come and go from Slater’s life, is reflected in the swirling and turning of the set itself, as kitchen cabinets are swung about, chairs (and their occupants) wheeled on and off and doors open and shut with percussive precision. Multiple entrance and exit routes (including the fridge door) adds to the speed and sense of time passing, a blur of people and events, just as a nine-year old would recall it.
This is a simply marvellous production. The writing is elegant and uncomplicated, the staging is intelligent and exciting, the cast are all so talented, playing comedy and tragedy, light and dark with skill and the gathering in of the audience, the use of a narration to break down the fourth wall and invite us into Nigel’s life, is simply brilliant. I loved this show…and went straight home to hug my son and eat hot buttered toast.
Toast plays at The Lowry until 2 June 2018. www.thelowry.com/events/nigel-slaters-toast. Having premiered at The Lowry, Nigel Slater’s Toast moves to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/nigel-slater-s-toast