Brighton Year-Round 2019
Henry Filloux-Bennett’s adaptation of Nigel Slater’s Toast is directed and choreographed by Jonnie Riordan, designed by Libby Watson with James Thompson as food director, Zoe Spur is lighting designer. Alexandra Faye Braithwaite’s sound designer and composer, with Chris Murray as associate sound designer. Till November 2nd and continues touring.
It hits you as you walk in, more even than the sweets suddenly by your side at a later moment in the play. A heavenly reek of toast. As we learn: ‘It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you.’
That’s what Nigel Slater’s Toast adapted by Henry Filloux-Bennett means. Not just the young Nigel’s love for his mother, not simply the warm wrap of real toast round your nostrils reminding you of home comfort, not even the way food centres our lives. It’s a joy, even radiance this dancing production brings beyond food, beyond even Nigel. There’s a dim religious light under the grill.
Since Slater’s Toast has enjoyed a famous TV adaptation, Filloux-Bennett chooses a theatrically boppy way to dramatize a boy’s journey from nine to 17. You might call it pop-up.
In fact that’s how it’s directed and choreographed by Jonnie Riordan, and indeed designed by Libby Watson, with a tiled floor thrust forward in a rhomboid as on those 1950s adverts, with a full array of of cupboards, with moving cabinets, yellow-fronted on white, the sunshine kitchen incarnate. The units themselves become part of the dance, pushed abut by the five-strong ensemble, often with Giles Cooper’s Nigel perched on top.
James Thompson’s crucially food director, with a swathe of pastries an fantastical cakes with the one-I-made-earlier elements built in to them. Though there’s a magical exception to this. Zoe Spur‘s the lighting designer producing those ‘ting’ moments and ghostly emanations from the fridge. Alexandra Faye Braithwaite’s the sound designer and composer – there’s a stream of hits with Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer in a bake-off to the death, and a delicate pointilistic score too. Chris Murray’s associate sound designer.
Cooper’s compelling and endearing as the short-trousered young Nigel, on a long day’s journey into long trousers and his life’s mission He discovers it with Katy Federman’s warmly charismatic Mum, the empathy sizzling or rising as Nigel narrates how his mother’s slapdash cooking enjoys surprising coups. Even here Nigel’s more precise, but forgiving. It’s impossible not to love her.
Even when she’s drawn to the new gardener Josh, Stefan Edwards’ sexy torso-stripping, articulate young man. Mum keeps bringing him shortbread whilst he teaches Nigel to grow radishes. But Dad sees his effect on them both and bye bye Josh.
There’s a cloud: the kind that can appear on x-rays Mum’s asthma. As we move to one of the most heart-catching moments, Mum’s teaching Nigel to dance on a table top to Charles Trenet’s La Mer – we know it can’t last. Soon the touching delicate protective love Cooper and Federman generate is snuffed out.
Blair Plant’s increasingly agitated Dad is one of those studies in awkward maleness not knowing what to do with love, or cope with loss. Plant’s avuncularity cracks open; soon violence is grief’s expression. And there’s another reason: Joan, played with just the right hideous oomph and man-catching brashness by Samantha Hopkins. The horror of this that she’s really good with cakes and everything else, and young Nigel’s efforts at domestic science can’t compete.
Until the wedding that is and a three-tiered cake. There’s been the Walnut Whip test first, a sexual scene with Dad declaring how you can suck out the walnut whip and leave the chocolate shell. The couple’s rivalry and ecstatic noises furnish the climax as it were of their relationship.
Apart from Cooper, onstage throughout, the multi-roling cast work with a buzz and harmony that exudes the clarity of Riordan’s direction and choreography. Federman for example doubles as both the OTT Domestic Science teacher and the kindly restaurant owner who gives Nigel his first break; and Edwards her son who gives Nigel his first kiss. He’s disappointed that discovering he’s ‘one of them’ doesn’t create more of a buzz. The emotions for instance generated when his father discovers by stumbling over wrappers that his son eats his Walnut Whips over a sea of condoms.
Still it’s with another loss that we see Cooper create a meal from scratch in real time. This we know is the moment that makes him. ‘That’s going on the menu’ his boss says.
We end with that iconic moment of truth outside the Savoy, and in another of Filloux-Bennett’s touches Mum appears as Nigel’s challenged to sing out a receipe for mince pies. It’s a quietly magical production, that doesn’t skirt heartbreak and trauma but knows its own truth and serves it hot.