Don’t be alarmed, you’re not having a stroke or suffering from a case of phantosmia, you are entering an extremely vibrant sensory environment at the Theatre Royal Brighton: the
colourful world of Nigel Slater’s Toast. I was met with the strong smell of burned toast as I took my seat. The smell, that took me a little too long to notice, was an entirely brilliant choice by Food Director James Thompson and not a bad mistake by an employee in the Theatre Royal staff room.
Nigel Slater’s Toast follows the childhood of the aforementioned between the ages of 9-16, before he became Nigel Slater the food writer and journalist. We’re taken through Slater’s relationships with his family, acquaintances and food in a barebones frantic-assembly-like array of physical movement sections. Taking moments to indulge us with Slater’s family high points and really exposing us to their lows. Also, in a rather odd turn and not one I found particularly needed, we are treated to Slater’s relationship with sex. To be completely honest, I found the choice by writer Henry Filloux-Bennett to add these scenes in quite disappointing, as ultimately I think the audience didn’t need them to see where Slater’s sexuality realisation was headed. However these scenes, despite perhaps not being entirely necessary, did not spoil my love for the show.
This autobiographical story is one of motion and movement that charismatically
encapsulates innocence and curiosity so sweetly. You may feel slightly uncomfortable in the perfection that Katy Federman displays as Nigel’s Mum, and I mean that as a compliment. Federmen’s talent is almost wasted on the audience I’m surrounded by, as her dominance onstage is one that only benefits her cast and is truly meant for a larger space. Giles Cooper, who triumphantly handles the role of Slater, is a spot on personification of childlike wonder and a wonderful actor in this role. Although it did take me time to adjust to the idea of a 37 year old man playing a 9 year old boy, as soon as I did settle to the notion Cooper did a fantastic job in making me regret my prior assumption that the age difference wouldn’t work, especially in the second act. I have to also congratulate the rest of the cast who beautifully command the stage and control it effortlessly, Samantha Hopkins and Stefan Edwards tap-dancing between dialects and characterisations elevate the creation of the world we are in, which would feel empty without them. By the end of the show Blair Plant won me over in the role of Slater’s Dad, even though at first I found his voice to be quite melodramatic, Plant diminished my original ideas by perfectly emulating grief and pain in the second act.
Libby Watsons simplicity in design was admirable and a welcome addition to the stage, being oh-so aesthetically pleasing; especially in those cupboards! I cannot stress this enough: Jonnie Riordan’s direction and choreography restored my faith in modern physical theatre, proving that flashy movement does not equal quality, in fact the ease of movement and seeming lack of difficulty made me so incredibly happy to watch. The creatives and production team have really knocked it out of the park on this one. Nigel Slater’s Toast is an effortless smash, combining rich narration, relatable characterisation and fluent movement to create what I would call perfect simplicity. And thanks for the pick-n-mix.
Nigel Slater's Toast is on at the Theatre Royal Brighton until the 2nd November. Tickets available here -
Review by Will Seebohm