Friday, June 01, 2018

'Nigel Slater's Toast' by Henry Filloux-Bennett

1 June 2018

On Saturday we were at The Lowry in Salford for Week 53 – The Lowry’s ‘Festival for the Compulsively Curious’ which focuses on using the building in unusual ways and giving the audience access to areas that are normally out of bounds. We were there to see Henry Filloux-Bennett’s new adaptation of Nigel Slater’s ‘Toast’ – the chef’s ever-popular childhood memoir, told through a series of short food-based episodes (reviewed here in November 2009). This fringe-scale drama was being performed in the main Lyric Theatre but with the auditorium closed off and both audience and actors on the stage (much like the Royal Theatre Northampton production of ‘Private Fears in Public Places’ by Alan Ayckbourn, reviewed here in July 2009). Unfortunately technical problems delayed the start of the performance for more than an hour, testing the patience of the audience. This late start, combined with the interval taking place in a pop-up bar in the theatre’s scene dock which meant a visit to the toilets required a long walk out of The Lowry, along the quay and back into a deserted part of the building – made for a bizarre evening at the theatre. Fortunately Jonnie Riordan’s production of ‘Toast’ brilliantly won us over – not least by feeding the audience with a constant supply of sweets and cakes (all carefully chosen to relate to particular moments in Nigel Slater’s story). The energetic cast of five playing multiple parts really brought this evocation of childhood to life. The cartoon kitchen set (by Libby Watson) added to the dreamlike recollections from the perspective of the nine-year old Nigel (excellently played by Sam Newton). And the mixture of humour and poignancy was nicely judged, with the actors occasionally breaking the fourth wall but not over-using this device. This was a very physical production with some beautifully choreographed movement. ‘Toast’ is a charming, sad, funny book and the stage adaptation really did it justice.

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