Giles Cooper, left, as Nigel, Blair Plant as dad and Katy Federman as mum. Picture: Piers Foley


Malvern Theatres


Toast, marshmallows, endives, radishes, gob-stoppers – this show is peppered with food and food preparations. Little surprise as Nigel Slater is one of Britain’s foremost writers on the subject. Toast is an autobiography – the ‘story of a boy’s hunger ‘. This stage adaptation by Henry Filloux-Bennett is touring the country.

It is a coming-of-age story: the story of an only child whose early years in Wolverhampton are characterised by a rather distant and emotionally awkward father, and a warm and deeply caring mother. The death of his mother when Nigel was nine was deeply painful and his father has no idea how to support and help him through the bereavement. Instead his father becomes increasingly abusive towards Nigel,  and intimate with their house cleaner whom he marries.

At the beginning of the play Nigel is nine, in the Second Act he is passing through teenage. He is discovering himself, discovering his sexuality, and eventually breaking free to go to London to pursue his passion – food, cooking and indeed writing.

Toast is an excellently crafted modern and ensemble piece. It is frequently very funny, at times poignant and sad, but the show is kept vibrantly alive by the clever use of props, music with choreographed movement, lighting and strong acting performances.

The involvement of the audience in this production adds a lively dimension to the experience – we are provided with confectionery, treated to distinctive smells and at times the cast break the ‘fourth wall’ and interact directly with members of the audience.

Giles Cooper plays the role of Nigel in a very convincing if understated manner, he combines a passionate interest in his culinary activity while being quite inward in coping with his loss. The action develops around him in a very slick and lively style. Giles, the young boy in shorts and long socks, is the typical primary-aged schoolboy in Act One. His emotional responses are very controlled, his relationship to his selfless mother is the foundation of his character.

Around him the ensemble perform a variety of characters with effective differentiation so that we always know when they are in their principal role. Blair Plant is principally a harsh and proud father, Katy Federman the caring and anxious Mum whose asthma increasingly impacts her life. Both provide strong and clear characterisations and performances. Samantha Hopkins (principally Joan) and Stefan Edwards (principally Josh) complete the ensemble which works very smoothly and cleverly together.

The set design provides us with a kitchen context and a flexible open space for a variety of scenes which are slickly filled with a variety of moving props. The choreography of the mobile kitchen units, the trolleys and various props, keeps the scene very alive, along with cleverly composed music to create a cinematic impact.   The music helps to create quick switches of mood and atmosphere.

This is a very enjoyable show which makes entertainment out of a young lad’s journey from childhood to independence and reflects the period of the 1960s in a slightly nostalgic way. As the play draws to a conclusion, Nigel prepares a unique dish which cleverly whets the appetite and launches his career. It was a very enjoyable evening and deserves fuller houses! It runs in Malvern to Saturday 5th October.

Timothy Crow


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