I have to admit, despite knowing who Nigel Slater is – I’m not massively familiar with his career or his books, includingToast. So going into the play adaptation of the book of his childhood, I wasn’t sure what to expect at all. What followed was one of the most heartwarming experiences I’ve had in theatre for a long time.
Toast recounts the coming of age story of well-known chef, Nigel Slater. It follows his life from 9 years old to 17, with everything being recounted through the memories of food, which is shared with the audience through treats being shared throughout the theatre for everyone.
The performances of all five cast members were faultless. Each gave nuanced and touching perspectives to the well-developed characters which gave the piece so much depth and really allowed the audience to connect with all the characters in some way. The relationship between Nigel (Giles Cooper) and his Mother (Lizzie Muncey) was especially powerful. Their chemistry was electric and it clearly showed how much Nigel’s relationship with his mother impacted his experiences with food.
The story (written by Henry Filloux-Bennett) is well-paced and brilliantly progresses from hilarity to heartbreak seamlessly. Within spoiling anything, the end of the first act made me feel as though I had been punched in the gut from how hard it hit me. I felt like I had to take a minute to recover as the house lights came up as it really affected me personally!
The use of set design (Libby Watson) was really intelligent. Lots of movable pieces of set allowed various kitchen and dining settings to be created from props being stored in every cupboard and draw onstage. It also clearly set the piece contextually – from the floral brown and yellow tiles to the various shades of brown throughout the set.
It would have been nice to have the cupboards be lined up a little neater along the back wall of the set – simply because as a perfectionist, this was a little annoying visually, but I was able to look over this and focus on the incredible performances instead.
Of course, what makes this play so unique is the use of food. Throughout the entire play, food is either being prepared, cooked, eaten or discussed in some capacity – even including a scene in which Nigel creates an entire dish on stage! For anyone who enjoys food, this play is simply a must! Especially when so many sweet treats are being passed throughout the performance.
It should be noted, that I loved how the inclusion of the audience eating completely changed the theatre etiquette during the performance. It allowed for appropriate small giggles and comments whilst food was being passed around but the focus was still paramount as soon as scenes progressed afterwards. It was like everyone was hypnotised by the performance – it was a fantastic atmosphere!
Overall, Nigel Slater’s Toast is an incredible piece of theatre. I left with both my heart and tummy full and I hope this is the beginning of a long and prosperous journey for this beautiful story of family and food.