| ADVERTORIAL |
This week sees the critically acclaimed production of Nigel Slater’s Toast come to Northern Stage direct from the West End.
A loving adaptation of Slater’s autobiography of the same name, Toast takes the audience on a nostalgic journey through the popular food writer and presenter’s childhood by recreating the tastes and smells he shared with his mother.
Upon entering the theatre, the distinct smell of freshly made toast smacks you in the nose. The first of many treats for the senses, with bags of sweets and walnut whips soon doing the rounds. And for lucky theatre goers in the frow – some tasty flapjacks.
Each meal dished up on stage tells a different story. From tasting spaghetti bolognese for the first time and making the perfect mince pies, to the indulgence of Angel Delight and the playground politics of parma violets and fairy drops, this is a moving and evocative tale of love, loss and…toast.
Set entirely against a 1960s kitchen backdrop, the staging is simple but multi-functional. Food magically appears from the depths of the kitchen cupboards in classic one-I’ve-made-earlier style. There’s dancing on tables and punchy comedic moments, with the uplifting music of The Crystals, The Four Tops and even Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer peppered throughout. A young Nigel, played by Giles Cooper, even cooks mushrooms live on stage.
But this isn’t a twee sugar coated tale. An innocent and naive young Nigel contends with bereavement, abuse and a strained relationship with his father, as the story takes an emotionally charged turn in the second half, all inextricably combined with his love for food.
Toast is a true delight, albeit bitter sweet, with the captivating performance from the tremendously adept five-person cast certain to rouse up your senses and emotions.
Whet your appetite yet? Here, Nigel Slater chats about the adaptation in more detail.
What’s Toast about?
Toast is the story of a little boy who feels abandoned because his mother dies when he’s very young and his father falls in love with another woman. The boy’s life suddenly changes with the arrival of a woman who’s completely different from his mother. It’s about learning to make your own way and gaining the strength to do something surprising at that young age, make big decisions about your life.
What moved you to write your memoirs?
I wasn’t the driving force, actually. I was asked to write an article about the food of my childhood. When I started writing, I realised that everything I was tasting brought back a lot of memories. Every food item was associated very clearly with a particular part of my life or vignette from my childhood. The day after it was published, my editor said “I think it should be a book.”
How did you feel when playwright Henry Filloux-Bennett asked about adapting it for the theatre?
I said “No.” I just didn’t see how it would work on stage. But when he sent part of the script I was completely blown away. I could feel the emotions; I could almost reach out and touch the people. I thought “This is going to work, let’s have a go.”
Jonnie Riordon, the director, has done this thing that directors do of making the show not a slightly sad story of a little boy losing his mum and being forced to live with a stepmum he didn’t like, but a really joyous performance. Right from the start, he decided that the heart and soul of this show is food. When I walked in on the very first night at the Lowry in Salford, I thought “Where’s the smell of toast coming from.” It was Jonnie walking round waving bits of toast before the audience sat down.
There’s magic to it when the food appears. For instance, my stepmother will open a cupboard and there will be a wonderful cake or some pastries waiting. It’s like little doors keep opening and food keeps appearing. The food is almost a cast member in its own right. The cast, as well as having to remember their lines, positions and all the usual things actors do, also have to run into the audience and hand out sweeties and treats. It really makes quite an impact.
How involved with the production have you been?
It is my story, so I do feel protective of it. But Henry got the spirit of the book straight away and Jonnie picked up the sense of fun, so I felt it was all in extremely good hands. I’ve kept a close watch on it, but everyone understood it is more than just a story of a little boy and his mum. It’s a bigger than that. It’s affected many people.
There are so many children that have felt abandoned after a bereavement. There are so many children that don’t understand why this new person’s come into Dad’s life or Mum’s life that they have to accept. It isn’t just my story. Lots of kids have that emotionally tough time. I hadn’t realised so many people would come up to me, send me letters or write emails saying “That is my story. That happened to me.”
How closely have you worked with Giles Cooper, who plays the younger Nigel?
We have become very good friends. We talk a lot and he asks a lot of questions, which is great, but I’ve never, at any time, said “Nigel wouldn’t do that” or “Nigel didn’t say that.” I don’t want a carbon copy of little Nigel. And Giles is just wonderful. He plays Nigel with aplomb.
Finally, what can audiences expect from a trip to see Toast?
They can expect a magic, the luxury of nostalgia and some fantastic surprises and treats that you don’t usually get at the theatre. It might be worth popping in a Kleenex as well, because there have been quite a few tears.
Toast opens at Northern Stage on 17 September and runs until Saturday 21 September 2019. For tickets, visit www.northernstage.co.uk
Images: Piers Foley