Reviewed by Janine Rumble
Nigel Slater’s Toast is a one of a kind, poignant, emotional, funny, and autobiographical journey that chronicles Nigel Slater’s early life from living in Wolverhampton to moving into the country and ends with his teenage years and his escape to London.
As a member of the audience, you are uniquely treated to an evening that tantalises all of the senses. From the sights of the outfits, kitchen, shops and restaurants of the era, the smells of the food that he cooks, the toast that his mum burns and the sweets that he buys, the sounds of music of the era, the tastes of the sweets he enjoyed and the feelings that watching such an emotional show evokes. I have never experienced a show quite like it. By the end of it I felt like I had been through an emotional wringer and I had a hankering to make toast when I got home.
The show is based on Nigel Slater’s award-winning autobiography of the same name. Before watching the show, I had heard of Nigel Slater, but did not know anything more about him than he is a journalist, broadcaster and has written many cooking books. Having watched the show, I now want to read the autobiography and have a go at following his recipes and make mince pies, Christmas cake, lemon meringue and toast as his character describes in the show.
Nigel Slater is cleverly portrayed by Giles Cooper, who despite being an adult, made his portrayal of Nigel from nine years to seventeen years old very believable, without seeming strange or being out of place. You simply believed he was that age. His portrayal took us on an emotional journey and chronicles all aspects of his life, from his simple love of cooking with his mother, to the sadness of her death, his strained relationship with his father and later his new stepmother. His narration monologues to the audience helped move the story along and gave a real heartfelt feeling to the story. Giles Cooper was just superb, and it was a joy to watch him act.
Katy Federman played Nigel’s Mum superbly. The relationship between Nigel and his mum was a loving one, even if she did have a bad habit of burning the toast. To watch her play his mother as a healthy, loving mother to the latter part of her life when asthma took its toll on her and the effect on her and Nigel was an emotional rollercoaster and the build up to her death was palpable in the theatre. Many audience members were dabbing at the eyes with tissues when the inevitable happened.
Blair Plant played Nigel’s often-bad tempered father who struggled to understand his son. The friction between the two characters simmered along throughout the show, with Nigel wanting his father’s acceptance and his Dad’s struggle with bringing up his son after his beloved wife’s death to his meeting with Joan, played by Samantha Hopkins and their subsequent marriage. The story then moves onto Nigel learning how to cook at school and his frequent battles to make the best food and cakes against Joan.
All actors, bar Giles Cooper, play a variety of other characters that Nigel meets during his life, including Stefan Edwards who plays the handsome gardener Josh, as well as other characters. All perform their roles amazingly and all are completely believable as each of their individual characters. All of the characters help to explain Nigel’s life story.
The scenery is very simple and consists of an of the era kitchen with movable counters that help the stage double up as other parts of the house, garden, shops, restaurant, beach, car etc. The clever sound effects help the imagination with the imaging of these scenes.
Whether you are a fan of Nigel Slater or not, I would highly recommend this show, giving it 4.5 stars, not just for the acting or the story, but also for the pure nostalgia, it evokes.
I watched this play in the Royal Theatre. It is a lovely old building (built in 1884) connected to the newer Derngate Theatre. It retains many of the old features, which make it a beautiful theatre to be in, although the seats can become uncomfortable after sitting on them for a long while. The Royal & Derngate is easy to get to with car parks within short walking distances away. There is disabled access throughout both buildings and the facilities are clean and presentable. There are a number of bars throughout the complex selling a range of alcohol, soft drinks, ice cream, sweets and theatre programmes. All staff are polite, helpful and courteous. I would recommend going to the Royal for the sense of history and nostalgia that only an old theatre can bring.
Tickets cost from £11 (booking fees may apply).
Nigel Slater’s Toast is at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton from 7-12 October 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk or call the box office on 01604 624811.
Royal & Derngate, Guildhall Road, Northampton, NN1 1DP | 01604 624811