Review: Nigel Slater's Toast is a warm-hearted wonder on Northampton stage

Anna Brosnan reviews Toast at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Tuesday, 8th October 2019, 4:26 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th October 2019, 5:26 pm
Katy Federman and Giles Cooper. Picture: Piers Foley

When Nigel Slater writes about food, his readers feel like a story is being told, an atmosphere created and the author's love affair with all things culinary comes to life.

It was unsurprising that, when he wrote his memoir Toast - the story of a boy's hunger - he was extraordinarily successful at drawing his readers in yet again, this time making his own family the key ingredients in a tantalising tale of love and grub.

The latest incarnation of this story is Henry Filloux-Bennett's play Toast.

Giles Cooper, Blair Plant and Katy Federman. Picture: Piers Foley

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In a story told largely through Nigel's encounters with different dishes ranging from burnt toast to lemon meringue pie, the audience learns of the author's closeness with his mother, the tragedy that struck his family and then his father's new relationship with 'Aunt Joan'; a woman he disliked and rejected as a mother figure.

Giles Cooper takes on the extremely challenging role of Nigel, at all times remaining central to the action and delivering a constant stream of narration, including feelings, thoughts and descriptions, by speaking directly to the audience.

The structure of the play, with its self-aware style, complete with a central character who is also narrator, could run the risk of creating a stilted delivery of the story. In fact, the opposite is true.

Giles does a fantastic job in taking on Nigel's warm and witty personality, quickly engaging the audience and making them hooked on his every word. This must not be an easy achievement, but it is made to look effortless.

Katy Federman, Samantha Hopkins, Stefan Edwards, Giles Cooper and Blair Plant. Picture: Piers Foley

He is also supported by a talented cast, who each take on multiple different roles as characters from Nigel's past.

Katy Federman really shone in each of her roles, proving herself a hugely versatile actor. As Nigel's mother, she created tear-jerking scenes of motherly love while preparing mince pies and Christmas cake. In the next moment she could be seen making the audience roar with laughter as Nigel's intense and slightly disturbing school cookery teacher.

I think the flow of the play's action is helped because it embraces its own self-awareness. As well as Nigel's narration direct to the audience, scenes are sometimes peppered with sequences of dance, with a charmingly vintage soundtrack, and the appearance of other support characters who help deliver a scene by becoming backing dancers or scenery shifters.

The play is full of warmth and humour, making it an incredibly easy and entertaining watch. It is a wonderfully touching tribute to Nigel's relationship with his mother, as well as going some way to underline the significance of food in his life as symbols of both love and war.

* Toast will run at Royal and Derngate until Saturday, October 12. Visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk