Toast at the Lawrence Batley Theatre online
Food is so much more than just fuel. The scent of a dish has the power to instantly transport us back to another time and place. Some of the memories that food evokes can, of course, be bittersweet. In Toast we are presented with a banquet of anecdotes from revered writer and culinary expert Nigel Slater, who takes us on a journey from his childhood in Wolverhampton to the kitchens of London’s Savoy. Blending mouth-watering descriptions of food with emotive drama and a sprinkle of humour, like a tasting menu, there’s something for everyone.
Toast began as a memoir published back in 2004. Adapted for the screen in a version starring Freddie Highmore and Helena Bonham Carter, it also catered to theatregoers in its stage incarnation. With a script by Henry Filloux-Bennett and direction from Jonnie Riordan, the production enjoyed star reviews at the Edinburgh Festival and a well-received run at The Other Place in London last year. Now, the original cast and creative team have reunited under social distancing to cook up an online version for us to taste at home. Those purchasing a programme will even receive a walnut whip to devour when instructed to.
One of the aspects that made the stage show such a success was its immersive elements, and it’s no surprise they’ve largely been lost here. Gone are the sweets being issued to the audience and the aroma of food wafting from the stage, but such effects could easily be replicated at home. The online version is a radio play, although there are beautiful illustrations to enjoy courtesy of Hannah Tinsley with animation from Dean and Mark Kendrick. These images mirror the sense of nostalgia that oozes from the beautifully descriptive and accessible writing.
The script is the star of the show here, setting up a somewhat quaint and archaic world and enabling us to taste the jam tarts as they are being prepared. You will be salivating one moment and close to tears the next. Slater discovering Father Christmas hasn’t visited because his mother has died is simply heart-wrenching. Being left with his dad, a man who views his son as a strange and foreign entity allows for the main drama of the play to flourish. His father has outlandishly antiquated attitudes, deeming his son too girly because he favours sweets that have flowery names, rather than opting for the more masculine ones, and failing to comprehend why his son wants to be in the kitchen. Laughable, yes, but also a reminder of how Slater’s parents’ generation possessed such narrow-minded, illiberal outlooks.
The starter teases an engaging family dynamic with a beguiling nine-year-old protagonist we want to know more about. The main takes us to surprising places and contains equal measures of heartbreak and comedy. As we simmer towards the climax of the play, dessert leaves us hopeful and somewhat satisfied. Ultimately, though, this is a take-out when it would have been more enjoyable to eat in. The online version gives us a great deal to relish and savour but we’re left hungry for more.
Photo: The Other Place
Toast is available to view online via the Lawrence Batley Theatre from 23rd until 31st July 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch Nigel Slater speak about the lockdown version of Toast here: