In this thick white slice of nostalgia, it’s easy to identify with Giles Cooper’s endearingly naive nine-year-old Nigel and his relationships with a loving mother and a distant dad, and eventually a shy seed-spilling observation of a hunky gardener.
Toast tracks the childhood and teenage years of its protagonist, and does so with a larky soundtrack of sixties and seventies pop. It’s briskly choreographed by Jonnie Riordan with routines which require the actors to park their characters and behave like bobby soxers.
It’s definitely entertaining, but also suggests Toast doesn’t really know which side it’s buttered — family tragicomedy, or cartoonish jukebox. Lizzie Muncey’s bravely ailing mum is a lovely, studied performance, and Stephen Ventura’s dad coldly realistic, while Marie Lawrence as cleaner-turned-stepmum ‘Aunty Joan’ has both the moves and the menace of the sixties femme fatale.
The meta-theatrical mash-ups of memory and reality, young Nigel’s misinterpretations of parental behaviour and some fourth-wall breaking give him the air of an upper-middle class Adrian Mole, but Henry Filloux-Bennett’s writing and Slater’s source material, elevate it beyond the mundane.
Like toast itself, though, it’s comfort eating but not quite sustenance enough for an entire evening. There are moments when the pace is slack, and while it’s nice to share in the Proustian food memories, having to deliver the ‘sweet treats’ of penny chews or miniature lemon meringue tartlets to an entire audience takes a while.
And no, you’re not having a stroke, they really do pipe the smell of burnt toast into the theatre.
Nigel Slater’s Toast, The Other Palace, Palace Street SW1. Tickets £20-84, until 3 August 2019.
Last Updated 10 April 2019