Toast – The Other PalaceTweetingit: 5* A boy’s obsession with food growing up in 60s suburbia. Nigel Slater’s formative years reimagined for the stage. Riding on a wave of nostalgia this leaves a sweet taste in the mouth.
Quietly blending at the bar of the Other Palace there were a host of familiar faces I couldn’t quite place, but I don’t suppose they recognised me either. No matter, best they don’t; I might be reviewing their show one day soon. But where to begin with Toast; based on the autobiography of food writer Nigel Slater, the play was a massive hit on last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. It tells the heart-warming story of Slater’s upbringing during the 60s and his obsession with food.
It begins with a nine year old Nigel (Giles Cooper) watching his Mum (Lizzie Muncey) in the kitchen. She’s not the best cook in the world, but it’s an unwritten rule that nobody bakes jam tarts quite like your Mum. Factory owning Dad (Stephen Ventura) sees himself as a trailblazing foodie, introducing the family to Spaghetti Bolognese. Nigel’s fixation on food is deepened by gardener Josh (Jake Ferretti), who encourages him to grow vegetables in his own personal patch of the garden.
However this benign existence is shattered by the death of his beloved Mum. The family’s opinionated cleaner Joan Potter (Marie Laurence) quickly gets her feet under the table. She becomes Auntie Joan as Nigel’s idyllic upbringing comes to a shuddering halt. They compete for Dad’s affections with food as the weapon of choice; a Victoria Sponge here and a Strawberry Pavlova there, the battle lines are very clearly drawn.
Nigel’s childhood was marked by the smell and taste of food. We love everything when we’re young; discovering things for the first time there is no judgement to be made. But food never loses its lustre or sense of wonder. And it’s the essence of nostalgia that drives this brilliantly inventive production. It reminds us of simpler, more straight forward times.
We all have fond memories of food growing up. For me, it was my Mum’s apple tarts laced with currants; bread pudding packed with cherries and spices, the smell and taste was delicious. So the play cleverly taps into an evocative period of our lives. Just to emphasise the point, we were given the occasional treat; a goody bag was passed around as long established playground rules for sweets kicked in. Lemon curd fancies were followed by the ultimate treat, a Walnut Whip! These were handed out during the interval. I prepared to snaffle mine thinking it wouldn’t matter; then a voice over the PA system boomed; it was Nigel: don’t eat your Walnut Whips yet; you have to wait until my Dad eats his. When that moment arrived the sound of frenzied wrapper opening was deafening!
Being a fusspot there were things about this production that bothered me. For example, how could a family living in a Wolverhampton suburb have home county accents; while everyone around them spoke with pure Black Country accents? Also, how could Lizzie Muncey be the mother of Giles Cooper; they look around the same age and dressing him in short trousers made the premise even more unlikely. But nothing so trivial could deny this show five star status. It was beautifully written and superbly acted with innovative set pieces refreshing the storyline. The only question is: how do you eat a Walnut Whip?!
Author: Henry Filloux-Bennett
Based on the book by: Nigel Slater
Director/Choreographer: Jonnie Riordan
Producers: Karl Sydow/PW Productions
Box Office: 020 7087 7900
Booking Until: 3 August 2019