Nigel Slater’s Toast – Review – Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield
By @Steve Crabtree, August 2019
Chef Nigel Slater is one of Britain’s best loved food writers, and a household name when it comes to the kitchen.
And when he’s not writing about food, he’s got an interesting story to tell. A story about himself. And whilst it’s been a hit on the big screen, Nigel Slater’s Toast is now popping up in theatres throughout the country.
“Evening started with intrigue”
It’s hit the Huddersfield stage, and when I went along the evening started with intrigue as we wandered in to door two at the Lawrence Batley Theatre. We got the distinct smell of burnt toast. I got a slap on the arm from my mum who’d come with me to this one as I reminded her that it smelled like the toast she makes. But it was a fun touch to begin the evening, which went on to be a successful night.
Slater’s attraction to food came to light in the 60s as a nine-year-old boy. And this is where we picked up his story. A 60s kitchen backdrop, and Carole King’s ‘I Feel The Earth Move’ setting the time and mood of the era. We’d get a few nice pieces of music throughout the play, and some kitchen-based choreography that worked so nicely.
The lead was nicely played by Giles Cooper. Continuously reading the one good cookery book the family owned, and helping his mum cook was the thing Nigel liked best. And his devotion of love to his mother was returned back to him in abundance. His father was a slightly different kettle of fish though. Although someone who clearly had a deep love for his son and his wife, expressing that emotion didn’t come easy. His character, played by Blair Plant brought an edge to a play that for the most part was a nice and light story.
There was a fascination with sweets too, and the fun factor of Toast was apparent when the cast handed bags of sweets out to the audience. It was quite random as to what you’d end up with, but if you got a pack of Parma Violets you were obviously a girl…!
“Determination to make it”
In the interval, I felt that act one had perhaps been stretched out a little. Very much Slater to the audience, with the other characters fleeting in and out of the story. But on reflection, it was an essential platform to enable the story to bloom in act two, which flew by so quickly I found it was over about half an hour too soon.
Toast addresses the sadness of Slater losing his mum, and the factors that fuelled his determination to make it as a successful chef. It dealt with Slater’s sexuality, and did so in a nice way. He never seemed to question his own sexuality; it was others who did this including his father. I liked how Toast highlighted how comfortable Slater was with it. Between the ages of nine and up to 17 took it in his stride. He’d eat girls sweets, and he’d watch the gardener change.
Close to the end, after learning that his father passed away, Slater cooked a dish up on stage. A kind of confident reaction. It took me a short while to realise that there was some real cooking going on. And we all watched with interest. And as the aroma filtered out in to the audience, it became a very poignant moment in the play. Slater had made it as a chef, and the performance closed as he took a dream job at the Savoy in London as a 17-year-old.
We came away having enjoyed a really well written and performed play. There’s quite a story to tell about Nigel Slater’s early life, and Toast has already had great reviews. After watching it in Huddersfield, it’s obvious why.