Toast at the Park
Richard Bean may have given up on any dreams of becoming a professional occupational therapist but the newly revived production of Toast, Bean’s fifteen-year-old play, has shown that the use of the stage instead of a chaise longue to expose the souls of his painfully true-to-life characters works just as well.
Reminiscent of a time when tea breaks and trade unions were no longer saving graces of the working day, the One Man, Two Guvnors writer acknowledges the “desperate, funny and tragic human beings” he became acquainted to in his youth.
Bean’s first professionally produced composition is a testament to plays of yesteryear. The Pinteresque approach of “stunting” the characters in an attempt to challenge identity exposes itself in Toast.
Time is a motif that features heavily in the play. From the opening scene, the characters count the minutes between lunch and cigarette breaks. With a more than gentle hum from the machines in the background, this is not a comfortable performance to be a part of at times, however, comedic elements are kneaded in with perfect timing from believable and likeable workers.
The ability of the actors to engage the audience was superb. Nellie – excellently played by Matthew Kelly – is a man of few words (and even fewer cigarettes thanks to his wife’s thriftiness), he has worked at the plant for 45 years and at one point, his vest becomes encrusted with dough encasing himself – literally. He becomes a representation of the future.
Using wit and awkward silences, Bean forces us to be part of their world. James Turner has dressed the lunchroom set as a metal-cased trap: you can almost taste the yeast in the air, thick with dissatisfaction and fear. The smothering factory is made more so by the constant phone calls from the unseen owner, Mr Beckett.
It is in this familiar prison however, that the men reveal their worries, hopes and dreams.
The delicacy of existence, the need for belonging, fear of the unknown and the importance of companionship are themes explored during fag breaks. Toast is an ode to Great British theatre and mere mortals everywhere.
Toast is on at the Park Theatre from 27th August until 21st September 2014, for further information or to book visit here.
Listen to Richard Bean discussing his previous works with Melanie Phillips here