MY FAVOURITE chocolate treat for as long as I can remember has been a ‘Walnut Whip’ – it was always the prize at the bottom of the Christmas stocking.
I mention this random fact before getting into the nitty-gritty of the review as every audience member was given one as we re-entered for the second act – with the request that we all ate them collectively at the appropriate moment which would be made clear – more of this later.
‘Toast’ is based on Nigel Slater’s best-selling bittersweet biography. The stage script by Henry Filloux Bennett probes deeply into Slater’s psyche whilst remaining quite enchanting – it’s lovingly directed and choreographed by Jonnie Riordan. Take my word it’s simply wonderful!
From the moment you enter the auditorium the experience begins, commencing with the pleasant aroma of slightly burnt toast wafting all around. It makes seated neighbours smile and join in silent cravings for the satisfying crunch that only wicked white toast smothered in lashings of butter can bring.
Libby Watson’s set comprises a stretched picture–book kitchen with the word TOAST hanging above so that the kitchen appears to be a slice of toast in a giant toaster, the fridge doubles as a door – ingenious.
Carrying on with the creatives, a special shout out to the poignant soundtrack by Alexandra Faye Braithwaite who seemed to have included all my 60s favourites complete with scratching needle – all so apt with none more so than Bobby Vinton’s ‘Blue Velvet’ – the sweetest of love songs which since David Lynch used it in the film of the same name has become a perverse omen.
Here it is the backdrop for one of the last beautiful moments between young Nigel and his mother as they waltz on the worktop before she becomes terminally ill.
The story is simple, but told with a complexity that is like the masterful icing and decoration of a common sponge – the production is a soufflé of satisfying theatre.
Giles Cooper is splendid with out being soppy in an ‘adult-playing-child’ way, Cooper is immensely believable as he takes us into the inner sanctum of Nigel’s thoughts on his coming-of-age journey.
Katy Federman is delightfully dithering as ‘mum’ and Blair Plant gives a quite extraordinary performance as ‘dad’ – a father way out of his comfort zone with a son discovering his feminine side.
Samantha Hopkins as Joan has a better Birmingham accent than any Peaky Blinder and makes for a glorious wicked stepmother. Her ‘battle of the baking’ with Nigel is quite riotous.
Stefan Edwards completes the company doubling as the gardener Josh and a ballet student, both of whom are cornerstones in Nigel’s sexual awakening.
We were graced on press night at Malvern with Nigel Slater himself sitting unobtrusively in the stalls. I wanted to tell him how much I admired his culinary passion and shared his penchant for Walnut Whips – but resisted on both counts. I just dutifully bit the end off my treasure and ran my tongue around inside the chocolate cone when instructed to by the Nigel’s dad as he describes rather a naughty moment.
Many happy memories are based around food, friends and family – this is a show that merges food and theatre so cleverly that you want to lick the bowl.
Toast runs until Saturday, October 5, at Malvern Theatres. Click here to see how you get your slice of this tantalising piece of theatre.
Review by Euan Rose.
Pictures by Piers Foley